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Bristol IoT developments

headshot of Nigel LeggThere’s a fair bit going on in Bristol at the moment as regards the Internet of Things (IoT) and these were reported on earlier this week by Nigel Legg, under the headline “Smart City done Smarter?“. Nigel’s post is reproduced in full below with his kind permission (with a couple of links added. Ed.).

My home town, Bristol in the South West of England, has been making a lot of noise over the last couple of years about being a leading Smart City, and about building an Open Programmable City. But this house of cards is starting to fall apart.

Videos are still appearing on YouTube featuring Paul Wilson talking about the Internet of Things Mesh Network that was planned by Bristol is Open (BiO), a joint venture company set up by the University of Bristol and the City Council, as though it exists, as though it has been installed already. But Paul has left Bristol is Open, and the mesh network remains an idea at best [if someone can give me a launch date for the network, I’d be grateful and I’ll delete this story], and it doesn’t seem as though it is going to happen anytime soon.

So the much heralded sensor network that was going to provide the data required for the Programmable City won’t happen — or will it?

The BiO mesh network plan was based around the SigFox system. This is a proprietary technology, and a top-down technology: users would have had to apply to BiO, and pay license fees, in order to deploy sensors on the network. Essentially, the City Council would have controlled all the components of the internet of things network.

The Citizen Sensing project run by Knowle West Media Centre has shown (me at least) that Smart Cities can be built another way. They do not have to be top-down, with the municipality telling us what we can do with the network and the technology. The Citizen Sensing project used workshops with techies, artists, and the public to design the work and the sensors to be used. Can we build our networks in the same collaborative, bottom up, and cost effective way?

LoRaWAN and the Things Network offer a solution, and with the delays in the roll out of the SigFox network in Bristol, alongside the Council having to make drastic cuts, now appears to be the right time for Citizen Networking to be developed in order to take Citizen Sensing to the next level — and maybe provide the infrastructure for the Programmable City we all want to live in.

With the departure of Paul Wilson from Bristol is Open, it would appear that the top-down approach is running out of steam. This situation is probably not helped by the recent announcement by Stephen Hilton that he is leaving Bristol City Council to become an independent consultant (news passim). The Bristol is Open project came under Stephen’s remit.

However, there are more woes in the pipeline down the Counts Louse. Earlier this week the council announced it was seeking voluntary redundancies as it would have to find savings of £29 mn. this year as the local authority’s finances were in a more parlous state than had previously been imagined. In addition, Bristol City Council is facing overall cuts of £60 mn. in its budget by 2020 and an expensive IoT project based on proprietary technology looks a prime candidate for the chop, especially when there are cheaper alternatives available from the community that are committed to open data, open source and open standards.


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