Smart Cities are getting Smarter.

Last night as the first winners of the Cognicity Challenge were announced. Two sets of six teams had been selected to work up some proposals to help solve some of the modern world’s knottiest problems, How can we all keep cramming ourselves into our cities?

We are all living hugger-mugger in capitals around the globe. London is growing at the rate of one full tube train’s worth of people every three days. 75% of the planets billions are predicted to move to the centres by 2050. Globally the cityscape population is growing by 1.3 million per week – equivalent to a city the size of Birmingham, UK. This poses all sorts of problems to those who administer the urban built environment. Logistical problems of how and what to build, transport problems of getting citizens to work, to party, to shop, to park, to home even to escape. There are the political problems of how do you get re-elected when you can’t even make the trains run on time and then there are global problems, what do you do with the sheer amount of garbage and gaseous emissions that we all spew out.

A lot of these problems are being actively administered on the Canary Wharf estate in the East end of London, where 110,000 people work, and where new residential tower blocks are being built like the one coming to Wood Wharf.

Crossrail is set to bring even more people in and the station shopping mall opens soon, and the canary Wharf estate plans to build another 10,000,000 square feet of office space in the next decade. which is why they encouraged the arrival of Level 39 a  technology incubator – a kind of hot desking space where people can set themselves up and collaborate on projects and have access to expert guidance provided by interested multinational giants such as Intel.

Next comes the competition, why not pick some groups of people, and then pitch them against each other in a competition to win a cheque for 50,000 pounds and a chance to see their ideas come into being through a pilot project. It’s like The Apprentice but for start-up technoheads.

Overall there are six sets of six in categories, covering topics such as sustainability, transport or the connected home. The teams of six are then given space for 12 weeks in 1 Canada Square - the isle of Dogs’ western docks original iconic skyscraper - and also given access to expert mentoring as they try to develop their ideas.

Collaboration was a big theme of the evening, and the winners were announced in two of categories. Sustainable building and Integrated Transportation.

In Transport …

1. The team from Alchera were grappling with theproblem of real time dynamic information on the busy-ness of our streets shopsand tubes. A grid overlay on the video feeds from key areas. Lobbies, and roadjunctions gives an idea of how much traffic is passing through and slicing thisinformation over time allows an element of prediction to be included. The teamare currently working with Milton Keynes, Cambridge and Peterborough councilson urban movement problems. 

2. Voyage Control were analysing the incredible inefficienciesof freight management. Trucks on our streets and motorways are empty 30% of the time. Optimising freight movement can provide significant savings to both business and the environment.

3. Buzzstreet proposed an aggregation of information feeds to provide the best wayfinder and indoor gps tracking systemfor your mobile phone using augmented reality imagery and available feeds fromshops, restaurants and bars. Hold your phone up and it will tell you what youare looking at and how to navigate to the nearest bar for a steadying drink ifyou find all this technology a bit scary.

4. Knownow -   – puts local knowledge in your pocket and allows individuals to choose, at anylocation, where and how they want to eat, sleep, work, or play. The mainchallenge with these systems is interoperability. There is a lot of informationavailable but how do you make it accessible to an individual with their own particularindividual needs and wants, rather then a internet of companies shouting at you for your custom.

5. Piemapping wanted to help make the streets saferby providing a route mapping systems that solved the current accident problems when lorries (mostly construction: 45% of freight on urban streets is deliveringto or from a building site or store) collide (sometimes fatally) with cyclists particularly when making left hand turns. In Canary wharf there will be an estimated 125,000 freightjourneys at one construction site.

6. And South African based company, mellowcabs,  is working on small ecofriendly electric cabs that can reduce the pollution on our streets with an electricvehicle capable of running for 10 hours and 140 km. 80% of current cab journeysare of less than three miles in vehicles built for longer trips and emittinghuge amounts of noxious gas into our cities.

An honourable mention was given to Piemapping but thewinning entry was voyage control with their freight optimising proposition.

In the Sustainable buildings category, energy, waste, andelectricity generation and saving were the main themes across the competitorsall looking to the government targets to reducing carbon emissions ultimatelyback to levels not seen since 1850.
1. SolarCloth  have a lightweight a flexible photovoltaic panel which is easier to fit to existing structures. It has on fifth of the weight of existing solar roof panels and could generate 0.3MWatts of power if it was used to cover the new Canary Wharf Crossrail station. Dynamic shading for facades and roofs is an option with sunlight being converted to electricity when the weather is hot, and to heat on cloudy days.

2. Jooxter,   uses Bluetooth technology in buildings to provide dynamic tracking of occupants helping provide useful space management data as well as helpful information for making connections with people and resources inside a building.

3. Quantum Waste,  wanted to bring smaller more flexible and less energy guzzling recycling technology closer to the source of the rubbish and help reduce the inefficiencies in current waste management and recycling centres and also helping to create local employment. I was reminded of a line in the karate kid where the young student at the temple learns that there is no such thingas rubbish, you need to be more imaginative in how you reuse what you throw away.

4 8point3 Led,  are making inroads into connected lighting systems. Two way control means lights giving information about occupancy in a building back to a central databank but also allowing control of lighting to generate cost savings across an estate.

5. Polysolar,  have developed transparent photovoltaic glazing to buildings as well as opaque panels that can be retrofitted to facades. Since buildings are being clad anyway, why not use productive panels and windows? Other than a marginal costs to allow the electricity to be taken away from the fitted panels, there is no extra expense and your outside walls can start to turn a profit. The thin PV technology has bette rshade resistance as well as better efficiency at higher temperatures as well as working on both East and West facing facades.

6. Lastly Pavegen have a fun piece of kit that is a sandwichof materials that goes on the floor in place of floor tiles and generateselectricity every time sometime steps on the panel. 7 watts per footstep onaverage, which in high footfall spaces, such as rail stations airports,shopping malls and busy streets soon adds up. On one project they fitted sometiles into a concrete football pitch in a favela in Brazil, allow the daytimegames to power the lights for the district.

There were two honourable mentions for Pavegen and 8point3LEDbut the winning cheque went to Polysolar who will now get to pilot there PV film on a small building somewhere on the Canary Wharf estate.

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