Research begins into technological revolution for cities

Imperial College gets a grant to advance city-based services through technology
Kerry Butters

July 27, 2011
London Google Maps

Imperial College London has received funding for its research into how technology can help run cities.

Researchers will investigate how resources and utilities in the city can be controlled with digital technologies, making them more cost effective and efficient.

The college has been awarded a £5.9m grant through the Digital City Exchange program, funded by the UK Research Council.

The research will look at how services such as transport, energy, water and waste can be jointly maintained using digital means. Data collation has already proved to be useful in other cities across the world.

The idea is to look at how a new, digital infrastructure can run a city using means such as sensors, wireless technology and mobile computing.

Professor Eric Yeatman, Deputy Head of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Imperial College London said: “It is now time to build on this enterprise and unlock a new wave of potential, by connecting our digital lives to the dynamics of real world data.”

“A simple example would be allowing you to see how full a train is before you get there. When data from many sources are combined, more sophisticated apps will emerge in energy saving, security, health, and many other areas.”

In San Francisco, for example, research carried out showed that traffic congestion at peak times was not due to lack of parking spaces, it was because commuters drove round and round the city centre looking for them.

A scheme was then put in place that used wireless technology to direct drivers to spaces via their mobile phones. Further to this, they could also top-up their parking time at the meter via their mobile phones, should their time away from the car be longer than expected.

Other schemes have successfully addressed energy usage by giving every home an energy measurement unit that allows them to see how much juice they are consuming. In New York, consumers are given the option to sell excess unused energy when stocks rise.

Imperial College’s head of innovation and entrepreneurship, David Gann, said the opportunities created by digital technology could be as great for cities as they have for media over the past ten years.

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science said: “Our personal lives are becoming increasingly linked through social media and it’s a great idea to see this concept being extended to utilities and services in our cities.”


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