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Buckinghamshire Council frees transport data to create smart suburbs

Local authority has partnered with IoT platform developer InterDigital to establish a county-wide smart transport model

Buckinghamshire County Council has partnered with network and IoT platform developer InterDigital to liberate hundreds of siloed datasets held around the organisation and create smart city transport applications for its residents.

The project, oneTransport, originated as a feasibility study run by a consortium comprising transport services firms Arup, WorldSensing and Traak, InterDigital, and Buckinghamshire Council, and was initially conceived in response to Innovate UK’s Integrated Transport Initiative.

It is based on the oneM2M internet of things (IoT) standard, developed by the European Telecoms Standards Institute, upon which InterDigital has built its own IoT device management platform, called oneMpower.

David Aimson, project manager at Buckinghamshire Council, said the seed of the idea grew from the need to find new sources of income.

“You don’t often hear local authorities talk about commercialising, but in the current climate we are having to think more like a commercial business,” he said.

All of our data is completely siloed. We have hundreds of datasets around the council but no real visibility into them, so we were looking for a solution to amalgamate these datasets, and with that open the possibility of commercialising our datasets.”

The transport datasets are being targeted first because transport is an easy-to-understand early stage use case for the IoT, said InterDigital senior manager Rafael Cepeda.

Aimson, who describes the project as “creating a smart city solution for a suburban area”, is looking at both live datasets, such as automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) and traffic cameras, and static datasets, such as bridge heights and parking spaces.

Once the data is flushed and cleansed through InterDigital’s cloud-based oneMpower platform, the council will be able to make sense of it for the first time, create new datasets out of it, and allow developers to go to town on it, said Aimson.

“So far, we have integrated live data feed from our urban traffic management and control [UTMC] system – that information is already in the platform – and prioritised a number of other data assets,” he said. “We are going to be running hackathons for developers later in the year.”

Open standards

The need to bring in developers who can make sense of the data and, more importantly, make something out of it, was the main reason why the council chose to work with InterDigital’s open standards-based platform.

Cepeda said that if Buckinghamshire is to commercialise its data effectively, as it wants to, levering open standards is critical to the whole enterprise.

“In big cities, you can exploit economies of scale, but in towns and rural areas like Buckinghamshire, it is more difficult because it can be harder to attract investment,” he said.

“The advantage of using open standards is that our partners can deploy it in multiple territories.”

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In Buckinghamshire Council’s case, the ‘territories’ are its neighbours – Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire.

After all, a journey beginning in Aylesbury or High Wycombe is just as likely to end in Luton or Oxford than somewhere else in Buckinghamshire, and if the transport apps and services developed for Buckinghamshire simply stopped at the border, they would be completely irrelevant to many users.

For this reason, three neighbouring counties have already come on board, said Cepeda, along with transport authority Highways England, which is responsible for operating and maintaining A-roads and motorways.

InterDigital expects the current Buckinghamshire-led trial to take place throughout 2016, demonstrating geographic interoperability, financial viability and operational benefits.

Next year, it will begin to invite other interested local authorities to take part as trial observers in an operators’ forum that will allow them to see the progress made in the so-called ‘four counties’ trial. The firm said work so far has modelled a two- to three-year return on investment.

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