Manchester corridor

Manchester smart city initiative issues incubator challenge

The CityVerve smart city open innovation programme is inviting UK organisations and individuals to come up with proposals.

Cities around the world are trying to get smarter. From Anchorage in the US to Auckland in New Zealand ­– and many points in between – city councils and governors are exploring ways of using technology to tackle the challenges that come with rapid urbanisation. 

The purpose of a smart city is to improve the quality of life for its citizens as well as make itself run more efficiently and effectively. A number of cities in the UK and Ireland are embarking on the road to smart, including Bristol with Bristol Is Open, Peterborough with PeterboroughDNA, Milton Keynes with MK:Smart, Manchester with CityVerve and various parts of London. 

Typically, such projects are driven by a mixture of public and private sector organisations and academia, with the latter playing an extremely important part when it comes to innovation and coming up with technological solutions. The challenges of building a smart city are so complex and multi-layered that those in the smart cities community recognise that the way forward lies in collaboration and drawing from a broad pool of ideas, knowledge and expertise.

With this in mind, the Manchester CityVerve project is holding an open innovation programme and inviting organisations and individuals across the UK to come up with proposals for smart solutions. The competition, which opens in March, will run for a number of weeks with a series of winners each securing a support package to realise their idea. 

Everyone from students and academics through to businesses and retirees can put their ideas forward in what Nick Chrissos, project director and head of innovation technology at Cisco UKI, the lead industrial partner behind CityVerve, believes will create one of the “most interesting technology contests” in the country. 

The innovation programme will be run by Manchester Science Partnerships (MSP), one of 21 partner organisations involved in CityVerve, whose new Central Campus site will serve as the incubator for chosen ideas. Plus as well as being invited to share ideas, students will be involved in evaluating the cases that come from the programme. “We really want to engage young minds,” says Anne Dornan, head of innovation at MSP. 

At the heart of the CityVerve project is a platform collecting data from sensors and sources around the city. Chrissos explains that it will be providing access to these datasets to those interested in coming up with proposals. “We will be exposing the data to start-ups, universities, colleges and individuals who can come up with solutions by connecting this unconnected data,” he says, adding that, they could be looking for as many as 30 solutions. “But solutions have to be replicable, procurable, sustainable and scalable.” 

Solutions should focus on the four main areas within the overall project: health and social care; energy and environment; transport; and social and public.

Carmel Dickinson is programme manager for the CityVerve project at the University of Manchester, which is responsible for evaluating the CityVerve project. Its researchers and academics are also involved in a number of use cases and projects and explains that the open call for innovation is very much in the spirit of the project.

“The intention was always to create something that is open and which will encourage companies and individuals to develop applications and services using the data,” she says. “For example, health and social care is broad but we are focusing on quite specific areas so it will be interesting if someone can come up with a way to use the data outside of the verticals.

“And the perceived wisdom is that such innovation is likely to come from a start-up, SME or group of students rather than the bigger organisations.” 

While winning ideas will initially be put to test in Manchester, from the outset CityVerve’s mission is to be a demonstrator site for smart cities worldwide so there is a scope for a bright idea to have relevance for the global smart city movement.

Speaking last year at the launch of a report on the urban agenda, Alice Charles, community lead, infrastructure and urban development at the World Economic Forum, said the world is experiencing an “unprecedented transition” from predominantly rural to chiefly urban living. “In 1950, a third of the world’s population lived in cities; today, the proportion has already reached more than half,” she said, adding that by 2050, city dwellers are expected to account for more than two-thirds of the world’s population. 

Smart cities aspire to provide an antidote to the problems that can arise from this rapid urbanisation and so CityVerve’s open innovation contest provides an opportunity to not just address issues at a local and national level but potentially on a global scale. 

Full details of the open innovation programme will be posted on the CityVerve and Manchester Science Partnerships’ websites.

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