Building the backbone for the city of the future

Enlight managing director Gary Atkinson of the Loddon-based business which brings technology into st

Enlight managing director Gary Atkinson of the Loddon-based business which brings technology into streetlights, to create smart cities. Picture: ARCHANT. - Credit: SIMON FINLAY

The cities and towns of the future could be very different place with a nervous system of data flowing through them.

Loddon-based Future50 member enLight is one of the companies which is hoping to make this vision a reality through projects including 'intelligent' street lights and gritting bins which tell you when they are empty.

Some of the ways technology could change the landscape include:

• Supporting social services: A digital thermometer on the mantelpiece of pensioner Mrs Smith, who worries about her energy bills, could alert her social worker that the temperature has dropped dangerously low – so prompting an essential visit ahead of a cold snap.

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• Controlling traffic: Vehicle recognition technology can be built into street lights, which then transmit the data to be analysed, allowing policy-makers to see which types of vehicle are causing pollution or congestion issues.

• Flood warnings: Sensors in the ground can be used to detect when ground water levels are rising, before there is any sign showing on the surface. Warnings can then be sent to people in the areas affected.

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EnLight chief executive Gary Atkinson believes all of these could be a possibility within two years as he aims to get the 'backbone' of smart cities in place.

His firm has launched a pilot kit for councils to build into a street light, to see how much information can be gathered. It is already in talks with a several authorities, including Oxfordshire County Council, about rolling out its technology.

The company's package includes water, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, noise level and microclimate sensors as well as a retrofit for the street light which lowers energy and maintenance costs.

'There is so much data that can be gathered,' Mr Atkinson said. 'The technology can show councils what is changing in real time so they can act accordingly.'

Mr Atkinson, a former director at tech giant ARM Technologies, said his aim was to get different council departments which would benefit from the information gathered by enLight's system to pool their budgets together to invest in the infrastructure – which he said would cost around 30% more than the cheapest LED street lights.

'If they all put a bit of their budget into the lighting they can have a platform they can start to utilise over the following years,' he said. 'The expensive bit is putting in the mains power supply and a five to 10-metre mast – which a street light is already.

'By building in our technology they can have the backbone of a smart city in place.'

The firm, which employs 11 people, has a long standing pilot scheme in place in Loddon and is targeting turnover of £1m for the year.

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