Bristol launches 'smart' city amid privacy doubts

Bristol has launched a 'smart cities' project that will see a software-defined network facilitate machine-to-machine learning for a future of driverless cars, assisted living and real-time healthcare. But where does that leave citizens' privacy?

Bristol launches 'smart' city amid privacy doubts
Bristol launches 'smart' city amid privacy doubts

The ‘Bristol is Open' project is a joint venture between University of Bristol and Bristol City Council, with £5.3 million in funding from the government's Department for Culture Media and Sport. Essentially, it is a city-wide intelligence scheme encompassing a huge fibre optic, wireless and mesh network powered by a high-performance software defined network (SDN).

This SDN – known as the City Operating System - connects to the University's Blue Crystal high-performance computer and also integrates Silver Spring Networks' standard-based IPv6 wireless network (IoT), which will connect to smart city sensors such as intelligent street lighting, weather and parking sensors.

SCMagazineUK.com attended the launch event on Tuesday where university and city officials spoke with great enthusiasm about the benefits, such as easing congestion, trialling driverless cars (‘Bobcat ‘ car trials have already started), monitoring electricity use and helping disadvantaged people with housing. They are also looking into carrying out the first 5G experiments and are working closely with Internet of Things standards such as Hypercat and the Republic of Things.

Put simply, Bristol is the latest city looking to use data to improve life for citizens living wiht a growing and ageing population.

The SDN City OS and super-computer configuration allow for the super-speed internet bandwidth to be divvied out to app developers and other third-parties, which 'Bristol is Open' says makes Bristol the “world's first programmable city”, while maintaining digital infrastructure. Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, Professor of High Performance Networks at the university,  called this technology-agnostic approach like “building an Android world for smart cities.”

The SDN City OS manages the hardware that collects data from the city and over-time will provide services to computer services such as IoT platforms for specific applications – such as the 1,500 modified lampposts with sensors. Fibre optic ducts connect between At-Bristol, Water Shed and Engine Shed,  with a mesh network covering a wider area including the lamp posts.

On launch day, we saw everything from the High Performance Networks Labs at the University of Bristol, the operational centre of the OS SDN, to the AT Bristol Data Dome (a 12m dome which will show 3D 4K visualisations for education and research purposes) and start-up scenes Engine Shed and Water Shed, with the latter generating ideas on ‘playable' cities.

“We want to build a liveable, resilient and sustainable smart city,” said Paul Wilson, managing director of Bristol is Open.

Bristol, the second biggest tech cluster in the UK (behind London), has also built a smart city emulator as part of the project, with the ability to run data from New York or Barcelona.

Bristol is Open announced NEC as its first partner working with SDN and interestingly said that Guangzhou in China would be a partnering city, enabling them to use the emulator to replicate scenarios via Bristol's infrastructure.

The mayor, George Ferguson, said that data will ‘become the most important toolset for making cities successful', but has acknowledged difficulties, especially on data privacy.

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