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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
Amputees trigger security alarms in AI-powered body scanners at airports – because AI-powered body scanners have only been tested by people with the full complement of limbs.
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.
Little did I know that The Things Conference in 2020 would be the last big event I’d go to for well over 2 years – thanks COVID 😭
After a forced break The Things Conference made a glorious return last week, and so I found myself on the Eurostar direct to Amsterdam, eager for two very full days with more than a thousand other folk geeking out together as once more Amsterdam became the global epicentre of all things IoT.
Last month I was asked to give a talk for the British Computer Society. With half the audience in the room and half online it presented some interesting challenges for a live presentation. A swift rehearsal the night before helped iron out the wrinkles in our tech setup. Thanks to Simon Morris (of Reading Geek Night fame) and Chris Todd-Davies (BCS) for their help.
BCS asked for a longer talk than I would typically give at a meetup, so I used a couple of videos in the talk to help keep it fresh and give people a break from my voice. Thanks to Mike for making a video about an allotments project we’ve been doing with a local town council. I particularly like this because it shows how an idea born from a community project can grow. The other video is the highlights reel for the Thames Valley Berkshire Smart City Network (aka SmartBerks) which covers all the challenges they set for local businesses to address.
Here’s the video of the talk. The talk itself lasts just over an hour, and is then followed by about half an hour of good questions from the audience.
TL;DR – feedback from students has been built into the new version of MyWay. Key changes include the ability to report incidents of drink spiking, and a more intuituve and faster user experience.
Our student safety app (MyWay) has been co-designed with groups of women students from the University of Reading over the past 3 years, and we have just released a new version which incorporates feedback from this year’s Freshers.