Purple Flag award for Reading, and honorable mention for MyWay

Purple Flag logo and banner that says "Painting the town purple: excellence in managing the evening and night-time economy"

Every reasonable sized town wants a thriving Evening and Night Time Economy. But wanting one and having one are not the same thing. There are lots of factors to consider.

One vital factor is how safe the town feels to the paying public.

Purple Flag is an international accreditation to reward those towns that achieve vibrant and thriving night time economies, and it strives toย help create safe and thriving locations at night for all users.

Reading has recently achieved Purple Flag status and I’m delighted that our MyWay personal safety app played a part:

๐Ÿ’œ “The work on safety is a fantastic highlight in this submission, in particular the My Way Reading app. The features showing which areas are better lit and how busy streets are can really assist people travelling in the ENTE [Evening and Night Time Economy), allowing them to choose a route they feel most comfortable with. Great work here!” ๐Ÿ’œ

This is great news for Reading, and real evidence that co-designing IoT solutions with the community can deliver real, tangible benefits for the town and the people who live and work there.

We’d love to see MyWay helping people across the UK feel safer in their town and city centres, especially after dark. If your local authority / BID wants that too, then we’d love to chat.

MyWay in the media!

It has been a very exciting time for MyWay, our personal safety app. Yesterday it was featured twice on BBC Radio Berkshire. Many thanks to Bridgitte Tetteh for some great questions, and to Ish Aa – RUSU Welfare Officer at the University of Reading for sharing her concerns as a young woman – skip to 46m30 secs on BBC Sounds:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0gqzw69

Today, Traecy and I are on BBC News – talking about how we turned Traecy’s idea into reality using an app and Internet of Things sensors:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-berkshire-67545358

I am delighted that MyWay is getting some attention in the media. Our involvement in Reading’s Safer Streets Partnership has helped raise its profile, and hopefully the extra publicity will help more people use it to feel safer when they are out and about, especially now it is getting dark so early.

If you live in Reading then you can use MyWay for free with this link. Just remember to tap your browser menu and add it to your home page.

Hopes and Fears for 2023

Open.AI generated image using the prompt "Solar power and bad data in the style of Kandinski"

There are already enough self-congratulatory reviews of 2022, so instead I decided to share a few of my hopes and fears for the year ahead.

Hopes

MyWay

This year will see MyWay evolve from a niche university student-focused safety app into a broader personal safety app. We have secured some funding which will allow us to make MyWay available to everyone who lives, works, plays in Reading.

It means we can help more people feel less vulnerable when walking around town, particularly when they are on their own, and at night. It also means we need to make some changes to the app. We are continuing our emphasis on co-design with vulnerable groups, and will be working with younger students (16+) and refugees, to better understand their needs and concerns and see how we can best adapt the app to suit them.

We will also be sharing data on safety incidents with Thames Valley Police to provide extra information for their own operations. We expect to do this using the open data platform Urban Data Exchange, which we already use in other projects such as Reading Hydro.

Big and simple IoT deployments

The Things Conference in Amsterdam in September last year presented the first few “proper” large scale IoT deployments in the UK. Two notable examples were smart streetlights, and smart water meters.

2023 should see more full scale projects, driven by pressure to reduce costs around energy, to be greener, and to keep people safe from COVID, along with greater supply of microelectronics. I think we will see large-scale deployments in offices, schools, social housing and public transport. They will be uncomplicated and will actually deliver a good return.

This is great news for IoT as a whole, and will hopefully entice some of the bigger tech players to get involved.

R & D

We have a limited budget for speculative R&D ourselves, but two areas are too exciting to miss out on.

Firstly – using satellites to augment terrestrial networks. I had my first taste of this with the Lacuna Space dev kit in the last 3 months. It is a very exciting area, full of potential and this year will see more LoRaWAN-enabled satellites launched, which means we will be able to send messages via satellite more times a day.

This year we will be working on two speculative projects (one funded) that will make good use of this exciting technology.

Secondly – battery-free sensors are becoming a reality! Companies like Voltaic are designing amazing, small factor solar panels and supercapacitors that mean there is no longer a need for sensors to be powered by batteries. This is *very* good news indeed because it reduces running costs, waste, and environmental impact. I am hopeful we will be able to make use of this with future MyWay installations, and with our Local Government clients.

Fears

Two big things are playing on my mind going into 2023:

State of Local Government

Local Government are Thingitude’s biggest source of revenue, and we love working with them because we can see that our projects can ultimately improve quality of life for the people who live and work in the Authority’s region.

Vacant posts are a problem. Local Government knows that IoT is here to stay and that we need to transfer skills from IoT companies across to council teams, but teams are stretched very thin, covering vacant posts and trying to tackle the backlog of work that built up during the COVID pandemic. It means we’re kept busy maintaining and supporting IoT systems, but we would prefer to skill up council teams so this work could be done internally at a fraction of the cost.

Councils are always under financial pressure, but given the current circumstances it is likely that this year is going to be particularly tough. Local Govt’s capacity to support new technology projects and changing practices whilst delivering essential services is seriously limited. My hope is that a few projects where the benefit case is clear and compelling will receive the funding and staff time they need to be fully implemented. Courage!

Bad data-driven decision making

People are such magpies for facts and data that we’ll believe them whether they are true or not. This was curious in the age of the printing press, perplexing in the age of social media …and it is going to be downright dangerous in the age of IoT and AI.

Society has decided that “data-driven decisions” are the gold standard for decision making. This sounds very sensible, but the *huge and often mistaken* assumption is that the data is correct, that it is comprehensive, and that it is being interpreted correctly to arrive at the decision.

Organisations are too quick to hand off decision-making to AI and IoT systems, perhaps dazzled by the technology or the cost savings. Of greatest concern is when these systems are making decisions about people. We know it is already a problem:

How do we ensure that the data and technology makes good decisions for *every* body, and organisations using it aren’t introducing (more) system bias against groups or individuals? This will be at the forefront of my mind as we continue to work with these exciting technologies.

LoRaWAN in Spaaaaaaace

A couple of weeks ago we were exploring 850-year old technology at Woodbridge Tide Mill, and this week we are right at the cutting edge.

As those great explorers and philosophers of the 1990s rave scene, The Prodigy once said:

Pay close attention.

Screengrab from Out of Space video by The Prodigy, 1992

Now I’m not going to take your brain to another dimension, but yesterday my Lacuna Space LS300 dev kit successfully sent a LoRaWAN message into space, where it was picked up by a passing satellite and beamed back to Earth.

Continue reading “LoRaWAN in Spaaaaaaace”

Woodbridge Tide Mill

The opportunity to mix *really* old technology with the latest IoT is the kind of project we love doing, not least because you get to hang spend time with other passionate geeks and often in beautiful locations.

Over the past few months we’ve been quietly working on just such a project, and this week Mike and I headed off to do the installation at Woodbridge Tide Mill, a working mill and museum located by the River Deben on the coastal fringe of Suffolk.

I was introduced to Ian at the mill by the Suffolk County Council team back in March. Suffolk has been deploying a LoRaWAN network across the county for the past few years. They use it themselves for things like monitoring meeting room occupancy and smart streetlights, and they also make it available to local businesses, community groups and other organisations in the region.

Woodbridge Tide Mill
Continue reading “Woodbridge Tide Mill”