Manchester, England, is set to be the UK demonstrator city for internet-of-things innovation.

Of course, there is much smart technology already in action across many major cities, but the CityVerve Project, awarded £10m by the UK Government, is different in aiming to improve services for residents and working with both the public and private sectors.

Here are six of the project's internet-of-things (IOT) initiatives.

Gamifying community health

IOT funding will enable a network of sensors in places of recreation, such as parks, and along commuter and school routes.

Individuals or even teams could then track and record their walking, therby gamifying community fitness.

The project cites The Great Space Race app as a previous example of this kind of team or community activity, enabled by smart technology.

Of course, smartphone activity trackers, social networks such as Strava and wearables like the Fitbit are all fairly widely adopted, but this method of using sensors (rather than GPS) is more akin to new forms of orienteering and will appeal to schools as presumably it won't require smartphones but tags (much like marathon timing).

orienteering tag

(image via trailbreak.co.uk)

Sharing air quality data

Many of the early uses of connected devices have included measuring climactic conditions. CityVerve intends to use street furniture to host air quality sensors, making use of existing infrastructure for connectivity (such as street cabinets).

With the spotlight on air quality after the Volkswagen diesel scandal, residents may be keen to avoid routes with high nitrogen dioxide, especially those with existing respiratory conditions (such as cystic fibrosis).

Giving citizens access to data about their city is also a great way to encourage further innovation.

Two-way communication from bus stops

The major bus operator in Manchester already provides mobile ticketing, but this new IOT project aims to go further and add functionality to suburban 'flag and pole' bus stops.

People will be able to check-in to a bus stop (presumable through existing operator apps), letting the operator know they are waiting for a bus. This can be enabled by GPS functionality, but beacons have been mentioned, presumably as a method of prompting the user (to check in, or to look out for an approaching bus).

Smart digital signage will also be added, bringing an end to timetable checking and finger crossing.

Whilst many will view this checking-in with scepticism, given the older demographics that use suburban bus routes, there's no doubt of a data imperative. In an already traffic congested city, bus operators need as much information as they can get to inform routes and timetables.

This two-way communication between operators and customers is the future of public transport.

mobile bus ticketing

Smart and safe lighting

Smart lighting is seen as vital to improving the safety of public transport. Alongside connected street lighting, the new trial should allow day-to-day flexibility and efficiency.

Lighting can be adjusted in response to weather, traffic volume and local events.

Again, the objective is to ease traffic congestion in rush hour Manchester.

Cheaper bike-sharing schemes

This one is rather interesting. The Manchester through-route will soon become bus and bike only and CityVerve is aiming to enable a bike sharing scheme that is crowd-sourced and maintained, but secure.

Quite how this will work, I'm not sure, but will likely mean the project won't need expensive docking stations, just tags on bikes involved in the scheme, and an app to find a bike.

The plan is to include electric-assisted cargo bikes to make last-mile deliveries, but with no further detail on the scheme, I'm unsure if this would be a service or merely a free hire option (most likely the latter).

Reacting to respiratory problems

Lastly, a biometric sensor network is planned, to manage response to patients with chronic respiratory conditions.

This will allow more efficient local health services and better emergency care.

Again, I couldn't find detail on how the sensor would work, whether it will measure a physiological output (such as breathing) or simply apparatus, but either way it's technology that seems long overdue.

It's undoubtedly going to take a while for these six initiatives to be implemented at any level greater than a trial, but such investment in the connected city is welcome. With the cost of computing falling, potentially life-altering changes to public infrastructure may be fairly simple. The next challenge is education and adoption.

Ben Davis

Published 4 December, 2015 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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