Big Data and Smart Cities for businesses, Birmingham and beyond

Cities around the world are taking advantage of the latest technologies, such as 5G or low power wide area networks (LPWAN), to help generate and record large volumes of data about the cities’ assets that can help paint an accurate picture of urban life. This smart transformation will help cities to make positive changes as they develop, grow and overcome challenges facing urban populations in the 21st century. Birmingham is no exception and is already taking advantage of bold new ideas and technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) to tackle real issues like traffic congestion and reducing carbon emissions.

Birmingham large collab

Smart cities are enabled by the collection and sharing of big data over superfast Internet connectivity. Birmingham City University is at the forefront of ground-breaking research into how local authorities and the region’s SMEs can use the technology to enhance their businesses. This research is headed up by Dr Adel Aneiba, Associate Professor of IoT at the University.

Here, we explain how two unique and exciting research projects he is currently working on have the potential to revolutionise how smart IoT networks and big data can be harnessed to analyse patterns, human behaviour trends and interactions in the city. We also explain how this research applies to real-life scenarios and how businesses could work with Birmingham City University to discover how to take advantage of IoT and big data in the future.

The Things Network – Connecting Birmingham

To become a leading smart city, Birmingham needs a smart infrastructure that will enable smart city applications’ developers to accelerate their innovation in this emerging domain. Birmingham City University and Adel are leading an innovative scheme in the city designed to do just that.

An Initiator of The Things Network (TTN) Birmingham, Adel has introduced low cost connectivity solutions to the city. TTN is a growing community of more than 40,000 members from almost 100 countries around the world. It is dedicated to accelerating adoption of the IoT networks in global cities by bringing together businesses, universities and governments to build a public IoT data network.

Based on LoRaWANtechnology which is defined simply as low energy, long range and low bandwidth, the data network enables Internet connectivity without 4G or WiFi, and because the network is low in cost to run, it is crowdsourced to make it publicly available.

Traffic monitoring

Adel first became aware of TTN in Amsterdam, where he witnessed first-hand the potential of LoRaWANas an end to end solution for smart cities. The network was first trialled to help alert canal boat owners that their boats were in danger of flooding due to rising water levels in the city’s canals. Sensors were attached to boats and via TTN, messages are sent to the boat owners to alert them that water levels were rising to risky levels.

Excited by the technology and keen to explore its potential for Birmingham, Adel has worked hard to bring this technology to Birmingham, and therefore he was appointed as TTN Initiator for the city. He has introduced two TTN gateways, one at Birmingham City University and the other in Digbeth and is collaborating with West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and Birmingham City Council (BCC), who plan to use the network to monitor the city’s traffic, air quality and more.

This technology has massive potential for the region’s SMEs and Birmingham City University invites local businesses to contact us to find out more about how this smart, low-cost way of collecting, processing real-time data and measuring performance could benefit them.

Flying high to capture data

The other research project Birmingham City University is currently focused on is using drones in future cities. Adel is involved in an initiative to help the West Midlands explore the future of this technology.

Working alongside WMCA, Adel helped to successfully submit a bid to the Flying High Challenge to become one of five regions in the UK to design ways for drone technology to support urban environments. Adel and his PhD students were delighted to be given the opportunity to take part in this challenge to investigate how drones can benefit Birmingham’s SMEs and its citizens.

Here are just three ways Adel and his students anticipate drones could be used in our city:

Crowd monitoring - Imagine it’s derby day, and large crowds are expected to descend on the city to watch local rivals Aston Villa and Birmingham City in action. Crowd control can sometimes be an issue for the police, but the use of drones could help monitor all routes to the match, sending live footage back to the control room if any suspicious activity is spotted. This could help the police quickly identify trouble spots and diffuse situations before they get out of hand.

Traffic assessment - Drones also have huge potential to monitor our roads and feedback live data on traffic patterns and serious accidents. They could also be used to take emergency medicines to hard-to-reach locations.

Measuring pollution - Air pollution and its impact on public health is a major issue for UK cities. A pilot project using drones to measure the city’s pollution levels from Millennium Point is currently underway, recording live data which is being sent back to a control centre for analysis.

Although regulation around the use of drones in urban areas is an issue - and some people are concerned that they pose a real threat to privacy - Adel is keen to raise awareness of how these projects could benefit local SMEs, particularly in the logistics and distribution sectors. With a small use-case around measuring air quality using drones and LoRaWAN, Adel and his team believes that LoRaWANtechnology could hold the key to making drones a viable proposition for the city in many similar applications.

Big city, big ambitions

There are a number of exciting initiatives taking place in the city including Digital Birmingham’s smart city roadmap to ensure Birmingham fulfils its potential as a smart city. Proud to be playing its part in bringing this innovation to the city, Birmingham City University would like to help more SMEs understand how TTN and drones enabled by superfast, low cost connectivity could benefit their businesses.

The ability to predict trends and patterns of behaviour opens up a host of opportunities for the region’s SMEs. The use of TTN in the city means businesses can apply sensors to almost anything that can be constantly monitored to flag change. Drones offer businesses a host of opportunities, from aerial photography for use in construction to the delivery of light weight items or surveying large areas of land. The possibilities are endless.

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Adel Aneiba

Adel Aneiba

Associate Professor in Internet of Things (IoT)

Adel believes that research is carried out for one key reason – to make a difference. Whether it be economical, social, political or technological, Adel’s research is designed to impact both the local community and the wider world. Adel has worked closely with leading software manufacturer such as PTC, IBM and TTN, and with West Midlands Combined Authority and Birmingham City Council on various projects related to smart cities, Internet of Things (IoT) and more. Adel believes that the collaboration opportunities for his projects are huge, such are the wide-scale benefits of smart cities, big data and real-time footage.

Working in the following areas:

Smart cities