By Dr Mark Begbie, Business Development Director for CENSIS
JUST over 200 years ago, Glasgow was on the cusp of becoming one of the world’s leading industrial centres, as the wave of innovation carried by the first industrial revolution hit the Clyde. Fast forward to today, the city, and the river running through it, is at the heart of another historic change in the way the world works: this time in terms of connectivity.
For nearly nine months, a consortium of organisations, comprising the city’s three universities plus Stream Technologies, Semtech Inc, Boston Networks and CENSIS, the Scottish Innovation Centre for Sensor and Imaging Systems, have been developing the UK’s most advanced Internet of Things (IoT) network.
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While there are similar IT infrastructures set up in other parts of the country, Glasgow’s network has something unique: using its gateways spread across the city centre, it can determine the location of devices. In an age of ubiquitous GPS-enabled mobile phones and satnav technology, that might not sound terribly exciting. But it could be transformative for many of the products and services on which society relies.
For the most part, Glasgow’s Low Power Wide Area Networking (LoRaWAN), also known as a LoRa network, does exactly what it says on the tin. GPS may give you a very accurate location, but it requires a tremendous amount of power. LoRa, on the other hand, can be used by devices with a battery life of five to10 years.
Equally, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi networks offer very small coverage areas, rendering them too expensive to use over large expanses – LoRa, by comparison, offers a range of three kilometres, or more, in urban environments.
In practice, determining geo-location makes a huge difference to the business impact of the sensors, devices, and machines you can connect – demonstrated by what is already being done in Glasgow. While much of it will be tested in Scotland’s largest city, it will eventually be employable in conurbations around the country, and beyond.
In waste management, for example, we’re exploring the impact of monitoring which public bins are full across Glasgow, where exactly they are in the city, and when they need emptied. The result could be much more efficient services and cleaner streets.
Another application is tracking the location of important assets. The owner, whether local government or a private contractor delivering a public service, may have a particularly valuable item they need to locate, or want to know whether a piece of equipment is at the depot or in use. Developing services in this area could cut risk, improve planning, and make service delivery more efficient.
Moreover, with the weather becoming increasingly unpredictable, we’re also working with other organisations to monitor river levels. Deploying sensors along the Clyde, we hope to help the authorities observe and react to rising water, ultimately preventing flooding from taking the toll it has in some parts of the UK in recent years. The nature and cost of the technology offers the potential for national-scale coverage.
Between a plethora of environmental monitors, pollution sensors, and social care devices designed to support independent living, there are plenty more test applications under way in Glasgow. The city has proven to be the ideal place to test new IoT-related products and services, not only because of its geographical and topographical characteristics, but the nature of the LoRa network that has been established too.
As an open standard and backed by a large number of companies which are invested in the city, the network is accessible for anyone with a business or service to develop, with the lowest-possible barrier to entry. It can be used by start-ups and more-established enterprises for trial purposes or to accelerate the maturation of products and services, very quickly and at low cost. Keeping it as open and accessible for all purposes is absolutely essential to getting as much as possible from the network, backed up by the ability to scale to full commercial development.
It’s not only Glasgow that is benefiting, though. In more rural areas, LoRa is also being developed to better connect local businesses. A current initiative taking place at the An Lòchran building on Inverness Campus is giving small businesses in the Highlands access to emerging IoT technologies to support the development of new products and services.
With further LoRa networks under development in Renfrewshire, Aberdeen, Orkney, Inverness and Dundee, and plans to scale Glasgow up to city-wide coverage, significant progress is being made towards bringing IoT to the UK. Two centuries after the city’s location and maritime prowess made it a key component of the first wave of industrialisation, Glasgow is leading the way by transforming how we use technology once again.