By Yulia Ivanova on November 30, 2015
The number of people living in urban areas is expected to double by 2050
, and the challenge of supporting sustainable growth without exceeding the capacity of infrastructure, as well as meeting key carbon reduction targets, is a major one. MK:Smart
is a £16M initiative which aims to tackle these barriers to economic growth in the city of Milton Keynes, one of the fastest growing cities in the UK, through the deployment of innovative data-intensive solutions. The newly built MK Data Hub
is at the centre of the project, where it collects data about energy and water consumption, transport, weather and pollution sourced from satellite technology, sensor networks, social and economic datasets, social media and specialised apps, with the aim of tackling key demand issues. In addition to these technical solutions, the project also comprises ambitious education, business and community engagement activities.
The MK:Smart project is led by Enrico Motta
, whose research focuses on large scale data integration, pattern extraction and visualization, to enable users to make sense of large amounts of data and support robust decision-making processes. He is also working on a novel environment for exploring and making sense of scholarly data, which leverages innovative techniques in large-scale data mining, semantic technologies and visual analytics.
We caught up with Enrico, ahead of his presentation at RE•WORK Connected City Summit
in March 2016, to hear more about the project and how we can use technology to address challenges in our cities.
What was the motivation behind getting involved in MK:Smart?
The area of smart cities provides a great opportunity to use technologies such as sensor systems, data analytics and decision-support systems to address some of the key challenges of our time:
How to ensure that cities grow as sustainable eco-systems?
How can we use resources in a sustainable way?
How can we reduce traffic congestion and pollution?
So for me smart cities are a very exciting domain, where the expertise and experience I have in knowledge technologies can be applied to tackle important societal problems. In addition I do not only work in Milton Keynes, but I have also lived here for the past 30 years. So, I am very glad to be able to contribute to making Milton Keynes a better place to live.
What do you feel has been essential to the success of the project so far?
There are a number of factors. A key one is that we have a progressive, city council that has a forward-looking agenda for sustainable growth and has been able to bring together a number of organizations from academia, business and the wider society to work together to tackle the key challenges for the city. While MK:Smart is the flagship project in this area, there are several other projects going on in Milton Keynes with dozens and dozens of organizations contributing to the innovation agenda. As a result we have a critical mass of expertise here which provides the city with a competitive advantage. Another important factor is the talent available to the project. We have a world-class team spanning people from both academia and industry and of course this talent allows us to build sophisticated solutions which are at the leading-edge internationally.
What do you see in the future for MK: Smart?
I would be disappointed if within the next 5 years we won’t be able to move beyond advanced demonstrators and deploy solutions at scale. But actually scale is not just a city level issue but is also a country level issue. We need to improve the overall infrastructure to ensure that it is not just about isolated cities moving forward but solutions can be easily shared and deployed in other contexts. Indeed, discussing collaborations with other cities in both UK and abroad and looking to deploy our solutions in other contexts will be a key priority for the final year of the project.
What challenges in our cities can be solved with emerging technology?
I don’t really see too many challenges out there that cannot be solved with existing technologies (or with envisionable evolutions of current technologies), given sufficient investment and time. By and large it is a matter of having the required long-term vision and being prepared to make the correct political decisions in the allocation of resources.
What new developments can we expect to see in the next 5 years?
It really depends on the level of investment but certainly we should be able to see wide-scale deployment of sensor technologies – e.g., to improve mobility by allowing people to go straight to a parking space without driving around and increasing congestion. The combination of electric vehicles, solar panels (or other sustainable energy solutions), cheap batteries and intelligent control systems could also allow individuals and cities to reduce dependency on non-renewable sources, inline with national and local targets. None of this is actually science fiction. These are solutions which are right now being developed in MK:Smart. The challenge will be to ensure large-scale deployment of these technologies.
Enrico Motta will be speaking at the 3rd annual RE•WORK Connected City Summit in London on 16-17 March 2016. Other speakers include Julie Alexander, Siemens; Paul Wilson, Bristol is Open; Lauren Kemball-Cook, Pavegen; Kevin Menice, BigBelly and more.Early Bird tickets are available until 5 February, for more information and to register please visit the event page here.