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Manchester bags £10m Internet of Things fund to smarten transport, health and culture

In a tough competition against 22 other entries across 34 cities, Manchester has bagged the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) £10m fund, a government-led technology race to test better local services using innovative smart technology.

Its CityVerve Project, led by Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, was declared the clear winner given its extensive plans for talkative bus stops, air monitoring and a network of sensors that will help deliver more efficient and flexible products. Overall, the project will focus on the pillars of healthcare, transport, energy and environment, and culture and community.

The demonstrator will be used in the Manchester Corridor, the city’s 243-hectare innovation district – running from St Peter’s Square to Whitworth Park along Oxford Road – that boasts 72,000 students and a 60,000-strong workforce. As well as a home to science and technology businesses and research centres, the Corridor also houses one of the region’s leading NHS trusts.

On behalf of the CityVerve consortium, Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said: “I’m delighted that Manchester has been selected as the UK demonstrator city to test and demonstrate how the imaginative use of smart technology can make a real positive difference to our people and businesses. The lessons learned from this project should benefit the country as a whole.

“The pioneering work Manchester is doing on devolution, finding innovative ways to respond to local needs and priorities, makes us the perfect test bed for this work. Our plans are firmly focused on creating the conditions for economic growth and helping connect people with the opportunities created – whether that’s helping them to monitor their own health to help avoid preventable illness, or giving them improving transport information to help them move around the city more easily.”

Planned innovations

The talkative bus stops initiative will convert ‘flag and pole’ bus stops into safe places with location-based services, sensors/beacons, mobile apps and intelligent digital signage that will let bus operators know when commuters are waiting by enabling people to check-in to stops.

A network of sensors will be spread throughout parks and along commuter routes to encourage people to engage in physical activity. The sensors will track the progress of individuals and teams competing against each other, including in events like the ‘Great Space Race Challenge’ that enables residents to “walk to the moon”.

The IoT technology will also add data analysis sensors to street furniture and infrastructure on the Corridor, such as lamp posts and street cabinets, to monitor air quality at different heights and locations.

Information collected through these sensors will be passed to those with health conditions, but will also be made available generally to inform people’s walking routes and options.

And this data will be opened up and exploited for insight and potential further innovation, working from the Corridor base and with all of Greater Manchester’s technology sector assets. This will be supported by new technical models for hyper-scalable cloud services, real-time data sharing, and interoperability and integration at network, platform and cloud levels.

The north-west city will also benefit from connected smart street lighting to encourage alternative forms of transport as a result of increasing traffic and congestion.

Those choosing to cycle will further benefit from plans to convert the Corridor into a route exclusive for buses and bikes. And to dodge the high costs and maintenance requirements of bike sharing schemes, IoT technology will develop a crowd-sourced, secure bike sharing service – including ‘e-cargo’ bikes to make ‘last-mile’ deliveries on the Corridor.

Manchester’s CityVerve also expects to address the barriers of applying IoT in smart cities, including in city governance, network security, user trust, data handling, replicability, scalability and justified investment.

The project comes at an ideal time, with the region sitting at the heart of the government’s devolution momentum and benefitting from new integrated powers and responsibilities in business and technology.

Originally launched in March 2015, the IoT scheme is part of a wider £40m Whitehall investment in IoT to bring the UK to the front of pioneering technologies. It is jointly led by the government, the research community and the wider public sector to increase the UK’s adoption of these high-quality technologies and services.

Digital economy minister Ed Vaizey MP wrote for PSE’s August/September edition explaining the £10m competition and how local authorities could get involved.

Apart from Manchester’s demonstrator, the rest of the £40m investment will be injected between 2015 and 2018 in healthcare demonstrators, a research hub focusing on privacy and security, and activity for IoT entrepreneurs – such as demonstrations for small firms specialising in IoT hardware.


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