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City research projects win £2 million backing



Digital technology and open data feature strongly in five projects to win support of Urban Living Partnership programme

A handful of projects using digital technology to improve the running of cities have been picked out for funding in the first phase of an initiative backed by seven UK research councils and the national innovation agency Innovate UK.

Teams working in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle and Gateshead, and York are due to receive about £400,000 each under the Urban Living Partnership programme.

One of the strands of the programme is to use tools for environmental monitoring, urban modelling, data analysis and crowdsourcing, and technologies including wireless sensing networks, wearable devices and virtual reality systems.

Solution platforms

It will also involve the development of open licence digital platforms from which any solutions to emerge can be shared with other cities, in the UK and internationally.

The programme will bring together experts from a number of fields and the first round of funding, totalling £1.9 million, comes from partners including IBM UK, Arup, Atkins Global, the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Future Cities Catapult. Longer term funding involves another £2 million, plus additional money the individual projects can attract.

The emphasis on technology is strongest in the York City Environment Observatory project, led by the University of York, an open data programme to develop a better understanding of how to manage urban environments. It will involve the use of wearables, wireless networks, drones, 3D models of cities and virtual reality.

Newcastle and Gateshead’s programme, led by Newcastle and Northumbria Universities, follows up the earlier Newcastle City Futures 2065 project, which identified the need for new digital platforms to exchange data across sectors.  It is aimed at bringing together experts in areas such as computing, mapping, spatial analysis and urban planning.

Leeds and Leeds Beckett Universities are planning to develop a diagnostic tool, to be available through an open licence digital platform, to support the management of complex urban issues. It will have an emphasis on co-production and collaborative working.

The Bristol project, led by the Universities of Bristol and the West of England, will focus on diagnosing problems across four themes: mobility and accessibility, health and happiness, equality and inclusion, and carbon neutrality.

A consortium of local universities is working on the Birmingham project, which is based on the understanding that most service innovations occur when providers cooperation with consumers on innovation.

Innovation strategies

Professor Philip Nelson, chair of Research Councils UK – the body within which the seven research councils are grouped, said: “The complexity of future urban living is beyond any single business, sector or discipline. We need joined up strategies for innovation within cities and urban areas.

“This joint investment by the research councils and Innovate UK will help accelerate the exploitation of the UK’s world class research and innovation base. In so doing we will have better designed spaces, stronger urban economies, more effective and sustainable use of available infrastructure and resources, and happier and healthier lives.”

Picture: York city centre, by DACP, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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