The Smart Cambridge programme
The Cambridge phenomenon has been an amazing success, but this achievement has put enormous pressure on the local infrastructure. The Smart Cambridge programme is looking at innovative ways to meet this challenge, as Dan Clarke, Future Digital Programme Manager at Cambridgeshire County Council, explained during a seminar hosted by Dataracks and Cambridge Cleantech at the Trinity Centre, Cambridge, in early February.
Cambridgeshire County Council faces huge challenges. At peak periods, the Cambridge transport network is almost at capacity, as is the energy network. With more people moving into the area, the pressure on environmental management, waste services, and health and social care continues to grow. At the same time, significant cost savings must be found. Innovative approaches are required to address these issues, and the authority, along with South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridge City Council, has successfully applied for funding via the government-backed City Deal initiative, allowing it to access £100 million over the next 5 years, with more to come subject to delivering on key performance indicators.
Much of the city’s infrastructure – traffic lights, street lights, parking meters, car parking, buses – is already connected and producing data, but they are all managed individually at the moment. Initially, the aim is to build a city management platform, deploying sensors across the city to collect transport network data, which is then transferred to a data hub for processing and analysis, and made available to third parties developing their own applications. The inclusion of analytic and visualisation tools will enable the data to be used by non-technical people, as well as internal policy makers.
So how can data be used to address city challenges? The aim is to move towards intelligent mobility, using technology and data to enable smarter, greener and more efficient transport of people and goods around the city. This could include the collection of data from on-street parking as well as car parks, giving a real-time picture of availability across the city, better prediction of bus arrival times to provide more reliable journey information, and real-time information on rail transport, pedestrian flows, cycling, and traffic speeds and densities. There may also be a role for autonomous vehicles, providing transport services on the guided busway outside of bus operating hours, or linking university campuses. Real-time monitoring of air quality could help people suffering from respiratory problems, and it may be possible to use technology to monitor the use of basic domestic appliances – such as kettles – to check that vulnerable individuals are active and not in need of assistance. Smart energy grids may be the solution to the problem of energy provision.
The key to success lies in taking a holistic view of Cambridge, as the city is essentially a system of systems, and any intervention in one area impacts on others. Technology and data are the enabling tools, but it is important to remember that the goal of the Smart Cambridge program is to provide a route to an improved quality of life.