The UK city of Milton Keynes (MK) is testing a number of smart city innovations through its MK:Smart initiative launched in early 2014 – part of the ‘Future Cities’ project championed by Innovate UK and funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The MK initiative is led by The Open University and includes a number of organisations such as MK Council, University Campus MK, BT Group, Anglian Water, Community Action:MK and Tech Mahindra (TM) among others.
Tech Mahindra is part of the US$16.9 billion turnover Mahindra Group, which has companies across a bewildering range of sectors divided into three main divisions: Automotive; Services; and the Business & IT Services division.
Explaining TM’s involvement in MK:Smart, Upendra Dharmadhikary, VP, Tech Mahindra, says: ‘Our involvement with the Milton Keynes smart city project started not as a technology thing, but as a social thing. We were looking to give something back to society and to the city, but whatever we did needed to link to what we do as a company.’
Dharmadhikary points out that this kind of social engagement is embedded in Tech Mahindra’s company ethos through its Rise initiative. The Rise concept began in India when the chairman of the Mahindra Group said that he wanted the Group to help anyone struggling in the world to achieve good by using the company’s solutions, platforms and assets to enable that.
Tech Mahindra looked at how it could help people in Milton Keynes and saw two possible approaches: big technology projects; and helping individual citizens. ‘The idea is to get co-funding for projects. We are not making money out of this; we are helping to transform people’s lives. The business benefit could be in revenue value or just gaining experience,’ explains Dharmadhikary.
MK Data Hub
Central to the MK:Smart concept is the MK Data Hub, which is designed to support the acquisition and management of vast amounts of data relevant to the city and its systems. Largely built by The Open University and BT, the MK Data Hub is hosted by the University of Bedfordshire at the University Campus Milton Keynes (UCMK).
The aim of the MK Data Hub is to collect information and use it to develop smart solutions across key areas such as energy, transport, business, water and waste management, as well as an education programme and using data from other sources such as satellite technology, social and economic datasets, and crowd-sourced data from social media or specialised apps.
Tech Mahindra is working across a number of initiatives, but it is principally building a digital enablement platform to help with processing and analysing the data, with the aim of making APIs available for the development of smart applications.
Much of MK:Smart’s work is designed to ascertain what the best ‘smart’ options are and what alternatives can be used. For example, the city’s transport demonstrator is focusing on Cloud Enabled Mobility (CEM) and aims to connect users with live transport and congestion information, along with services such as booking and billing systems.
The MotionMap service will provide real-time movements of people and vehicles and will include embedded timetables, as well as congestion and crowd density estimates around the city. Smart parking projects are tied into this too.
In the energy sector, MK:Smart has two main goals: first, to develop and demonstrate innovative energy services enabled by the smart analytics capabilities of the MK Data Hub; and second, to demonstrate the business value of the MK Data Hub for the energy sector.
One of the energy projects involves electric vehicles, which are powered by 50 rapid-charging units situated around the city. Dharmadhikary comments: ‘We are looking at what it would mean to have electric cars and buses in the city. For example, we could have induction charging of vehicles: something mechanical at dedicated points, so the vehicles get charged as they wait. We are working with electricity company SSE on this.’
The CAPE Project
A new project is MK’s Community Action Platform for Energy (CAPE), which began in November 2015, and marks the first time a UK city has tried to harness and combine locally generated data and satellite imagery to help communities take charge of their own energy needs.
‘Satellites can be used to measure how much sunshine you get a year; how much heat is dissipated through your walls, and how often and what time is spent re-heating,’ says Dharmadhikary. The CAPE project will take a solar feed and carry out thermal imaging of homes, assess heat loss, add in solar power and so on.
Ravi Balakrishnan, senior consultant – Smart Cities at Tech Mahindra, explains: ‘The real difference here lies in handing power back into the hands of the community. If occupiers have this kind of information on their home energy performance, that gives them collective bargaining power. If 100 homes could benefit from a particular energy supplier’s solution they could instigate crowd buying and get a volume discount.’
Dharmadhikary suggests that perhaps energy performance is the common denominator in many smart city applications. Speculating ahead he says that although it is not in the current programme, perhaps Milton Keynes could become self-sustaining in energy by creating its own energy through sunlight, water and windfarms.
Balakrishnan adds: ‘You could develop a micro grid as a service: we have different sources of energy; traditional energy going into homes and buildings, wind, solar, battery power and so on. If we measured all this we could do the analytics and provide information to people saying: at this point of time use solar energy as it is cheaper than fossil fuel. This is dynamic energy management.’
‘These are the principles that are driving us here and we are also trying to do things with MK Council outside the programme,’ says Dharmadhikary, ‘such as adult social care assessment.’ Milton Keynes has revenue coming in from this, but there is a lot of wasted time involved as social workers travel between clients. The question for the council and social care providers is: when does social care start and when does it end?
‘Social care is a big and increasing cost for the UK,’ notes Dharmadhikary. ‘So, the idea is to track social workers’ hours and relate them to their invoices and pay cheques far more accurately. To do this you need a digital enablement platform tied into remote care monitoring systems.’
Digital enablement platform
The digital enablement platform is at the heart of Tech Mahindra’s smart city offerings.
Dharmadhikary points out that if you want a smart city you need to know what the city’s assets are in the first place and then start monitoring them – street lights, for example.
Milton Keynes is currently collecting information from 167 different data sources, but to extract meaningful information from that data, an analytics programme is required. ‘Smart cities need an integrated management system, so someone had to play in that space and bring the different parties and data together,’ says Balakrishnan.
‘You then need to do the analytics on top of that and expose that information to different industry verticals. Tech Mahindra is very experienced in developing analytics platforms and pushing data out in formats and ways that suit different verticals. You also have to ensure the robustness and security of that data, so we do the analytics and then build an anonymisation layer.’
TM is not developing the smart apps. Its job is to enable other verticals to use its platform to do the analytics and then develop the apps they need. TM is harnessing what it has learnt from other smart city projects, in particular from Jaipur, India, where the Mahindra World City Jaipur is being developed as a live Smart City demonstrator.
TM has deployed a Connected City Dashboard command centre with an integrated customer helpdesk at its Jaipur campus, which enables managers to get a picture of the status of all the smart applications around the city and enable managers to create information flows between them.
The Connected City
Dashboard displays all the assets being monitored, such as smart bin systems. ‘You end up being able to predict when bins in certain locations will be fullby combining historical data with live data from the bins,’ says Balakrishnan.
‘This allows you to reschedule and reroute bin lorries accordingly. The aim here is to try to save energy in terms of road trips and miles covered. If you then combine bin, lorry and road congestion data you can work up the optimum time to do collections.
‘Sending bin lorries out during the school run is inefficient as the road congestion is at its worst then. We’ve seen 15-20% improvement in productivity, fuel consumption and miles driven in some smart bin projects,’ reports Balakrishnan.
There is no dashboard for the MK: Smart Hub yet, but Dharmadhikary says TM will have one ready by the end of 2016, if not on the scale of the Jaipur one.
Harvesting social media data sets
A further aim is to consider what happens if you mash different data sets together, such as business, crime and demography statistics. Then there is analysing social media: where are people when they are talking about issues affecting them in the city?
Is there a relationship between traffic congestion and issues being discussed on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, for example? The council can track key words on social media platform and use them to engage with citizens.
There is a full workflow of information behind this, with council people who answer calls from citizens. Information gleaned from social media analysis helps staff in the call centre manage bad-mouthing from the citizens.
MK:Smart is still at a relatively early stage, but it and other UK cities are helping to keep the country at the forefront of ‘Smart City’ developments.