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Bristol: the booming smart city

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Barney Smith, CEO at Bristol Is Open, explains how the innovative project can help make cities more liveable and sustainable. Bristol is the eighth largest city in the UK and a popular place to study and work. With a steady influx of people, it also faces challenges around congestion, pollution and city planning. The smart city concept is a good general framework for developing responses to these urban issues. However, it is through the Bristol Is Open project that more tangible and long-lasting solutions can be found. The initiative is a joint venture between Bristol City Council and the University of Bristol, with the aim of making Bristol the first open programmable city in the world.

What does this mean in practice? We imagine a city that continually informs us of its status – traffic flows, air quality, energy usage – and applies this information to better manage its infrastructure and maximise efficiency. City experimentation is at the heart of Bristol Is Open. This is being led by chief scientific officer Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, head of the High-Performance Networks Research Group (HPN) and director of the Smart Internet Lab at the University of Bristol. She and her team have already trialled fibre 5G solutions and are using their pioneering research into Software Defined Networks (SDN) to help Bristol become a hyper-connected city.

Bristol Is Open collaborates with three Local Host & Ecosystem Partners: the At-Bristol science centre, the Watershed multi-arts venue and Engine Shed, a high-tech business incubator. There are also a number of industry partners on the project. Achieving our vision requires extensive infrastructure and the council is fortunate to own B-Net, a 180km-long ducting network with 83km of fibre infrastructure already installed. With the option of upgrading the network to a multi Tbps fibre optic capacity, the creation of a ‘wireless mile’ that can facilitate wi-fi, 3G, 4G, LTE and 5G and a radio frequency mesh made up of 1,500 lampposts with sensors attached to them, Bristol Is Open is at the centre of research and development into smart cities and future communications.

This advanced connectivity will support a new operations centre, set to open in autumn 2017. It will be a state-of-the-art environment where CCTV, traffic and emergency services will be housed under the same roof, thereby making Bristol a more responsive and resilient city able to meet the demands of the future. I think it would have been considerably more difficult to implement Bristol Is Open without the council already owning the ducting, and this sets it apart from other projects with a smart-city agenda. In fact, Bristol was the top city outside of London in the first UK Smart Cities Index, which was commissioned by Huawei UK and published in 2015. Both cities were placed as ‘leaders’, with Bristol Is Open commended for its uniqueness and open data strategy. The project was also recognised in 2016, winning The Smart City Award at the World Communications Awards.

Bristol has long been a pioneer in the field of open data, making hundreds of datasets available to download for free and allowing citizens to create apps using this information. Another ambition of the project is to collate anonymised data reflecting the movements of the city’s residents, transport and environment. Companies, academics and organisations can in turn use this for research purposes, which can benefit other cities facing similar issues. To aid this they can use the Data Dome housed inside At-Bristol’s Planetarium. It is the first projection environment in the world connected to a city-scale high-performance network and computer. The Data Dome has been retrofitted with 4K projectors, capable of displaying immersive 3D visualisations of data, and will be an integral part of research into smart cities.

Urban environments are continuously being pushed to their limits, and Bristol Is Open’s innovative approach to smart city research can help tackle this. I firmly believe that by using the expertise at the University of Bristol, key assets in the city and working with world-leading technology companies, Bristol Is Open can help make cities more liveable and sustainable.

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