Internet of Things



CityVerve – the smart city demonstrator that has inspired Manchester, by Mark Duncan

Technology is transforming our cities. It is empowering governments, businesses and citizens to tackle society’s greatest challenges in new innovative ways – and Manchester, Polis president for 2018, is leading the charge.

A collaborative project led by Manchester City Council, CityVerve is the UK’s smart cities demonstrator. It is made up of 20 organisations, ranging from public, corporate, SME, NHS (national health service) and University sectors, who have united to explore how the Internet of Things (IoT) can be used to transform the city and create endless possibilities for the people of Manchester.

The project’s short-term aims have been focused on exploring how we can improve the health and wellbeing of Manchester’s citizens, the efficiency of its transportation links and the quality of the local environment, whilst identifying the potential to create new business and job opportunities.

Through the lessons learnt in Manchester, the longer-term aim is to commercialise the model for smart cities everywhere.

CityVerve was established in July 2016 and now, almost two years later, we can reflect on what began with a call from Innovate UK for smart city demonstration proposals. Since, it has evolved into a project that has been showcasing examples of how IoT technology can improve life for people living and working in the city.

The ‘bottom-up’ approach and introducing the platform of platforms

The project follows a ‘bottom-up’ approach, ensuring the project is real and relevant by listening to its citizens. This is being achieved through art and culture installations, a local community platform as well as the community forums which collectively aim to improve city livability.

What binds CityVerve is a series of cross cutting work packages that cover data, visualisation, art and public realm, for example – CityVerve relies on a ‘platform of platforms’ – a secure ‘catalogue’ of data that can unite applications. This network infrastructure has enabled the collection, interpretation and use of data, coupled with a flexibility to accommodate the growing and ever-changing Manchester.

On this platform, CityVerve has deployed a series of use cases over the course of the project, focused around four citizen-centric areas; Travel and Transport; Energy and Environment; Health and Social Care and Culture and the Public Realm.

Travel and Transport

The first of the four themes focus on the delivery of an efficient, reliable and attractive public transport system. This ranges from reducing congestion to enhancing public safety.

CityVerve has many data-relevant components, but where does the data come from? How is it gathered? And how can it be used to inform and improve facets of the community? One of our use cases for example uses connected bike lights to demonstrate how this can be done.

140 See.Sense sensor-enabled ICON bike lights were given to volunteers across Manchester with the technology capable of ensuring a cyclist’s safety on the road whilst gathering a broad range of anonymised sensor data.

The data gathered can range from information on the quality of the road surface to highligting near misses and traffic incidents. Such devices enable us to learn more about Manchester’s cyclists and how they’re using their city, not only from a travel and transport perspective but also how it is affecting other pillars of the CityVerve projects, including energy and environment.

Energy and Environment

This theme covers the energy management of our buildings, the cleanliness of our streets and the sustainability of Manchester.

By working with commercial landlords and local authorities who are managing public spaces ranging from libraries to town halls, we have explored the potential to enhance the management process of facilities across the city through smart facilities management.

This is visible in Compliance Cost Reduction which focuses on addressing the high costs faced by landlords when complying with regulations on matters such as Legionella disease in water piping. By automating this monitoring process, we are not only improving health and safety but also saving costs and reducing wasted water.

To ensure the facility management is sustainable across the board, it is important that sufficient energy storage systems are in place. By reassessing the common processes for storing energy, CityVerve has focused on establishing how buildings can be best manage energy during peak periods, and reducing reliability on the energy grid in the process.

This commitment is showcased through the Tesla Powerpack System at the projects HQ, Manchester Science Park. The next generation building management system is capable of managing energy consumption whilst allowing the site to shift from commercial tariffs and reducing the carbon footprint of the site.

Health and Social Care

The focus here is on alleviating the pressures of modern day challenges faced in health and social care. This comes from reducing burdens on A&E (accident and emergency) admissions, decreasing health inequalities and improving health outcomes through driving self-care and earlier public health interventions to tackle costly chronic conditions upstream.

We have applied IoT technologies to neighbourhood support teams to improve their efficiency and effectiveness. In the past, these teams have relied on paper-based solutions which is insufficient when it comes to meeting the challenges of growing demand and shrinking budgets.

An example of how CityVerve has looked to enhance the quality of care through a Smart Homes deployment is the implementation of passive sensors within homes designed to collect baseline data, such as air quality and activity levels, the ability to understand this information enables us to understand the effects the home environment can have on peoples’ health and wellbeing

Another IoT technology which has been explored is smart inhalers, which have been developed to utilise data compiled by monitoring systems to aid suffers of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – a lung condition which causes breathing difficulties.

In the UK, a total of 1.2 million people have been diagnosed with COPD. There is a particularly high incidence of COPD cases in Greater Manchester and for this reason, a smart healthcare solution has been introduced.

By developing a smart inhaler capable of monitoring usage and establishing when prescriptions need refilling, the deployment enables GPs to track the welfare of their patients in an informative, yet secure manner.

The implementation of such devices can only benefit the efficiency of the NHS. The government recently announced it is going to train its staff in AI and robotics underpinning that leaders understand the importance of introducing technology to empower both its staff and patients.

Aside from IoT technology, CityVerve is aware of the importance of adopting a holistic approach to health and social care. PlaceCal – a community-sourced calendar aimed at helping people of all demographics find out about activities in their local area – underpins this. Pulling on the knowledge of citizens, PlaceCal offers an online platform whereby the community can see all the small events in their area: the coffee mornings, sewing groups and computer classes that are all just around the corner.

Culture and the public realm

Manchester is a city renowned for its creativity, diverse nature and the way it embraces change and new ideas. These beliefs sit at the heart of the city and led to the creation of CityVerve’s fourth theme – exploring how technology can enhance the culture and arts of Manchester.

The intangible nature of IoT makes it difficult to show citizens how it can be deployed across their city. To counteract this, CityVerve has looked at ways in which the technology can be made visible to the naked eye in an engaging manner.

A use case which amplifies this is the Manchester Plinth – a platform which presents art through augmented reality (AR). The platforms utilise the power of AR to bring artwork to the streets of Manchester, enabling a larger and more diverse audience to explore and engage with them.

By its very nature the Manchester Plinth challenges our understanding of space in urbanised areas, and demonstrates how they can maximise the capacity of limited space. Posing these types of questions illustrates how CityVerve has challenged how we develop the public realm.

Two years of CityVerve

CityVerve boasts an array of tangible achievements already. This includes the deployment of 140 smart bike lights; 240 facility management sensors (with another 429 coming) and the engagement of over 4000 residents within the health and social themes.

This quantatively highlights the success of the project, but what CityVerve set out to do was build a demonstrator capable of showcasing how a smart city can be built and how that can enhance the living stands of its citizens.

As the project nears the two-year mark and, ultimately its conclusion, we can begin reflecting on the project and what it is has done for the city of Manchester and how it can be used an example for cities globally.

A common goal

 To develop technology that can deliver a smart city, collaboration between public and private sectors has been imperative. By working together through design and implementation, we have been able to ensure transparency of data and knowledge. Both public and private sectors can benefit from the data collected with the lessons learned and the knowledge gained capable of creating one strong, equally beneficial smart city.

However, arguably the biggest learning wasn’t about the technology that built a smart city but processes that surrounded its creation and implementation.

A smart city has thousands of moving parts; talkative bus stops; smart inhalers; community-sourced calendars, to name a few, yet with each component there is likely to be a different owner and therefore different contractual obligations. This underpins the importance of developing partnerships and working together to manage these projects in a coordinated manner to best achieve a common goal for the city. This is where the value lies.

The CityVerve project has brought together talented organisations in sectors ranging from healthcare, to art and the environment. In communicating the challenges faced within each sector, we have been able to offer a truly citizen-centric approach and have understood the importance of collaboration in ensuring not one aspect of Manchester is isolated. Ultimately, we are better together.

Mark Duncan is Strategic Lead – Resources & Programmes, Manchester City Council and CityVerve.