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Cambridge launches urban data IoT project

The city of Cambridge will use Telensa IoT sensors and a Microsoft Azure platform to better manage its urban data assets

The Greater Cambridge Partnership, the delivery body for Cambridge’s City Deal with central government, is to trial a new service that will help it take charge of its citywide data assets using a Microsoft Azure-backed internet of things (IoT) network.

The so-called Urban Data Project has been developed by smart lighting and smart city applications specialist Telensa, and comprises a network of streetlight-mounted multi-sensor IoT pods feeding back into Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform to create a “trust infrastructure” for urban data, which should enable Cambridge to collect, protect and use IoT data to benefit everyone in the city.

“Cambridge has pioneered a number of smart technologies, collaborating between the city’s world-class academic and commercial R&D organisations and the local authorities. The Greater Cambridge Partnership has funded ‘Smart Cambridge’, to see how data supports activities that help to make Greater Cambridge even better to live and work in,” said Claire Ruskin, executive board member for the Greater Cambridge Partnership, which is charged with investing up to £1bn in city infrastructure, jobs, homes and apprenticeships in Cambridge.

“The Urban Data Project is part of this innovative approach, helping to create a comprehensive ‘digital twin’, and providing the tools to use the data responsibly with policies that are transparent to our residents,” she said. “Telensa is a world-class company based in Cambridge and we are very pleased to be able to assess the real use of IoT technology.”

Telensa defines urban data as a mosaic of street-by-street, real-time information that makes up a digital twin of a city. This includes data on how people use and move around in the urban environment, traffic conditions, air and noise quality, and so on – data that could be extremely helpful in redesigning city infrastructure for the future, making services more transparent to citizens, and offering localised insights to local businesses, such as retailers or estate agents.

However, to date, its use has been somewhat limited, Telensa believes, thanks in part to the costs of single-purpose sensors and moving video data to the cloud, and in part to issues around trust, best-practice and transparency.

Telensa hopes to get around this using its multi-sensor pods, which incorporate video and radar capabilities feeding into a powerful edge compute platform, running on the Azure IoT Edge and featuring real-time machine learning for data analysis.

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The pod data will then be combined with other city data in the City Data Guardian trust platform, again built on Azure, which will let Cambridge apply privacy policies, comply with data regulations, and make data available to those who can use it.

“We’ve been busy working with cities for the past 10 years, making millions of streetlights smart and turning light poles into sensor hubs. But for us it was always about data, and finding an economic way for cities to take control of their urban data assets,” said Telensa CEO Will Franks.

“We’re delighted to be working with the vision of Smart Cambridge, the innovation of Microsoft IoT and the power and reach of the Microsoft Azure family to make it happen.”

Bert Van Hoof, partner group programme manager for Azure IoT at Microsoft, added: “Microsoft is committed to supporting cities achieve their goals of sustainability, resiliency, and inclusivity through digital transformation – powered by IoT, cloud, AI and Edge technologies.”

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