Newcastle University has announced an ambitious £50 million project to combine digital ingenuity and scientific expertise with social innovation to create the smart city of the future.
Based in the heart of Newcastle on Science Central – the former home of Scottish and Newcastle brewery – the aim is to create a living lab where new technologies and systems can be trialled while making a real difference to society.
Putting users at the heart of the project, the leading team of engineers, scientists and digital researchers from Newcastle University are asking the public what they need to improve their everyday lives.
Using this feedback, together with information about energy systems, environment and mobility from hundreds of high-tech sensors across the city, the project will change the face of Newcastle city centre.
Everything from transport and energy systems to the very fabric of the buildings will all work together to improve the user experience while reducing our carbon footprint.
Working alongside policy makers, businesses and public organisations, Newcastle University’s plans will put ‘the first science on Science Central’ – the hub for digitally enabled urban sustainability research. The University presence on Science Central is part of its commitment to the Science City partnership with Newcastle City Council.
Professor Chris Brink, Newcastle University Vice-Chancellor, said: “Our vision and commitment to being a world-class civic university means we do not just look at what we are good at but also what we are good for. One of the areas in which we make a contribution to civil society is urban sustainability, and it is very pleasing that we have now found the academic and financial resources to make a major push on this topic.
“Over the next four years, we hope to see Science Central grow to become an exemplar of urban sustainability research, bringing together academia, organisations, industry, democracy and communities to develop solutions that will make a difference to people’s lives across the globe.
Professor Phil Taylor, who is leading the Newcastle University part of the Science Central project, adds: “This is about taking a dynamic and ambitious city like Newcastle and using it as a test bed to create a world-leading example of urban sustainability that others can follow.
“Science Central offers us a unique opportunity to bring together internationally leading researchers, expert practitioners and cutting edge equipment so we can tackle some of the most important global urban sustainability challenges facing society today.”
Fiona Standfield, Director of Newcastle Science City, responsible for the delivery of Science Central, said: “This investment is fantastic news and represents a significant milestone in the development at Science Central, which is now very much open for business.
“To have such an innovative and ambitious project onsite reflects not only our ambitions for Science Central to attract leading edge scientific organisations to invest in the site, but the ambitions of the North East to play a vital role in the delivery of globally important R&D projects.”
Pat Ritchie, Chief Executive, Newcastle City Council, added: “This investment will help Newcastle play a key role in meeting the critical challenge of building a sustainable future by using world leading research and smart technologies to develop innovative solutions to the big issues of the city and our society.
“It will also help us to retain and recruit the high-skills talent and investors the city needs to grow the economy and become a leading global city of the future.”
The plans include an Urban Observatory which will monitor the urban environment, pulling together data such as traffic flow, air quality and extreme weather conditions to enable real-time decision making. An example of this is the work being carried out by the University’s transport research team. Working with the Urban Traffic Management Control Centre, they are investigating new in-vehicle navigation systems which can warn the driver of dangers ahead or problems on the road. At the same time, pollution sensors collect information about air quality so traffic can be re-directed to reduce pollution and, ultimately, improve health.
Another project is the £2 million Cloud Computing Centre which will integrate and analyse big data sets. This will be housed within the new building as part of the Digital Tower – which will bring together the School of Computing Science and the Digital Institute, re-locating them from the main university campus to Science Central.
Professor Paul Watson, Director of Newcastle University’s Digital Institute, explains: “One of the big challenges of a ‘smart city’ is that we have all this data available to us but it’s how we analyse it so it becomes meaningful and useful.
“The Cloud Centre offers us a unique opportunity to understand the footprint of the city in terms of energy use, the movement of people and environmental impact and use this to inform future infrastructure so the city moves more freely and more efficiently.”
Part funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sports, the Centre will also use the private and public cloud resources for learning and development, bringing together industry, the public sector and academia to boost innovation and skills across the region.
The £50 million research facility will be complete and functioning by 2017. However, some of the first research projects are already underway. These include:
- £3.5 million i-BUILD Centre set up to understand interactions between our energy, water, transport, waste and digital technology systems. Project lead Professor Richard Dawson explains: “While national scale infrastructure planning remains important, it is at the scale of neighbourhoods, towns and cities that infrastructure is most dense and interactions between infrastructures, economies and society are most profound.”
- £2 million grid–scale energy storage test bed that will pave the way for the future of Smart Grids and energy storage across the UK, led by Professor Phil Taylor. The new energy storage test bed will allow experts from Newcastle University, and their partners in industry and academia, to develop new technologies for maximising efficiency, availability and sustainability of energy across the power grid in a real-world setting.
- £1.3 million MyPLACE project, led by Prof Peter Wright, to develop and test a digital platform and toolkit that will allow the public to engage with local councils and other organisations more effectively in the research, planning and design of the urban environment. The project will work in collaboration with councils across the North East and Newcastle’s Age Friendly city initiative.