Mel PoluckEditorMonday 11 September 2017

Bristol seeks digital infrastructure data innovation

'Impress us and we’ll connect you to those who can make your ideas happen,' says National Infrastructure Commission  

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) is calling on multi-disciplinary teams from across the country to find a digital data project to help plan for Bristol’s future infrastructure needs.

The commission is seeking projects that recreate any element of the city in digital form, to simulate usage and maintenance and predict demand for water, transport, waste collection and flood defence, for example.

Data could include local bus routes, lamppost locations or energy use – as long as it helps to map Bristol’s future infrastructure needs. The NIC has provided a list of freely-available Bristol-related datasets to kick off submissions.

The NIC will offer winners a platform to show their ‘ideas, ingenuity and insight” and the chance to work with government technology unit Innovate UK and the network of Digital Catapults. “Impress us and we’ll connect you to those who can make your ideas happen,” NIC says.

“The Digital Twin Challenge is about how we integrate broader data and make better use of information,” said Sean Shiels, Bristol programme manager at the UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure & Cities (UKCRIC) and systems centre manager at the faculty of engineering, University of Bristol. “Will a Digital Twin provide insight into how infrastructure operates and lead to an improvement in how we manage it?”

Asked whether the project would lead to the deployment of a concrete product in Bristol, he said: “It’s difficult to say. This is unchartered waters, the integration of digital technology and infrastructure. Virtual reality and artificial intelligence may well come into the conversation. The reality is that we haven’t started a conversation about how to use these new technologies. Let’s see what we can produce.”

The competition was launched by Lord Adonis, chairman of the NIC, an executive agency of the Treasury, set up in 2015 to offer independent infrastructure advice to government.

He said in a statement: “Britain should be leading the way in using the latest digital technologies to make the most of our infrastructure, and to plan for new projects. Our new data challenge is about asking the brightest and best to see how far this technology can take us, and what benefits it could bring".

Teams submitting a data project must include people from a range of disciplines and could include students, academics, data scientists, infrastructure specialists or technology companies.  

Participants will present their project to judges from Innovate UK, the Alan Turing Institute, Ordnance Survey, the UKCRIC and the NIC. Judges will look for, among others, whether projects could be co-ordinated in a network of other cities and mutually-supportive systems, for example, data showing the effect of a flood on transport systems.

Finalists will participate in a ‘policy thinkathon’ to discuss the wider implications of their projects and winners will be announced at the Bristol Festival of the Future City on 19 October.

The competition is part of the NIC's latest study which examines how technology, including artificial intelligence, can be used to improve the productivity of the nation’s infrastructure. The New Technologies study will also consider security issues around new systems that produce large volumes of data.