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IoTUK Challenger North - Day 2

Day 2 of the IoTUK Challenger North had a more relaxed start. Participants were welcome to tea/coffee on arrival and many settled straight in to designing their pitches or creating demonstrations. Challenge owners were also present, available to answer any further questions that could help refine ideas.

Throughout the morning and early afternoon, we conducted a series of very short interviews. We used a set of questions for participants and a set of questions for challenge owners, hoping to gather feedback and good vibes. At the time of writing, we still have to process the video and get it ready to upload but the answers we got were very interesting (and flattering). Firstly, there was a lot of love for the space. We've said it a lot in the past but it really does have an impact when you see it for the first time. It was great to see the participants enjoying the relaxed and flexible layout, utilising different parts of the space for different needs. Secondly, there were a lot of comments about the friendly atmosphere and an appreciation for 'Northern hospitality'. And finally, there was consensus across both participants and challenge owners about the value of the event itself. SMEs appreciated the rare opportunity to talk with key stakeholders in large organisations, whilst the challenge owners felt they were now more aware of the great innovation going on in Internet-of-Things and confident to work with smaller businesses.

After a hearty lunch and one final push to finish slides and prep notes, it was time for the pitching session. With the number of pitches, it was decided to split into two groups, allowing everyone to pitch in good time and to the relevant audience. Group 1 covered social housing, assets, and health, whilst Group 2 was about connectivity and measuring/monitoring (especially in relation to water use and natural flood management).

First to pitch in Group 1 was Tom from FaultFixers. Tom's solution relied heavily on mobile use and would need social housing tenants to download the relevant app, but had a great deal of potential. In his demonstration, he showed how the app would be 'branded' in line with the local authority (Leeds in this example). Customers (social housing tenants in this case) download the app and register their details, which would be checked against the back-end data supplied by the local authority. From there, the tenant could report faults (and even see the faults reported by neighbours!). Total control is given to the tenant to monitor for repair progress, etc.

Next was Leonard from Kemuri, whose hardware and software cover multiple applications but was focused on social care for this pitch. They create power sockets with a variety of sensors built in to them - motion, temperature, humidity, power loss. The advantage of this style of sensor over more commonplace 'pendant' style health sensors is the fact that they are ubiquitous. It still functions as a power socket, it will collect data and monitor people as they go about their daily routine as opposed to someone adjusting their routine if they know they're wearing a monitor. There is also a cultural element as well - there are some stigmas attached to wearing pendant monitors, the idea that you are vulnerable so must be watched at all times.

Then it was Simeon from PCSG, who have previously consulted on digital strategies for large organisations and other local authorities. He demonstrated the GeoConnect platform they have been developing that acts as a single place for info about a property - GIS, ONS, individual assets, etc. Although pressed for time, he did manage to use some open data from Data Mill North to show it could work for Leeds City Council. The platform allows a dashboard to be created and queried quite quickly (as long as there is data to feed in to it). The IoT application here would be live data from internet-enable assets, such as smart lighting, sensors, etc.

Representing two startups, Aoife (all the way from Northern Ireland!) was next to first talk about Leakwatch, which was a hardware-software combination to address the problem of damage caused by undetected leaks. A choice of either floor sensor or ceiling sensor (where the sensor is actually in the 'void' of a house) can help detect humidity changes and physical leaks, combined with a smart valve to stop water supply to the house should a credible leak be detected. This has obvious potential in regards to the social housing challenge and the Yorkshire Water challenge. The second startup that Aoife was ready to talk about was Convex Lens, which was developing a product called Safecility. It was specifically designed with compliance testing in mind, which is still conducted with a very labour-intensive process involving multiple technician visits and lots of paperwork. Safecility introduces a digital process, allowing for the tracking of paperwork, technicians, etc.

The final pitch of the day came from Tobin and his team from Pocketworks. Previously having been a mobile app specialist, they started working in IoT after an R&D project where they developed gateways and sensors for use in warehouses. (They also helped create smart lighting for yachts as well!) Their proposal for the assets challenge (tracking things like bins and lightbulbs) actually looked away from IoT hardware - several solutions already exist and have the same problems, mainly that they are expensive. So Tobin suggested that we turn the problem of overflowing bins in to an opportunity for citizens to engage with their cities and communities. Using QR codes on bins (printed on all-weather material relatively cheaply) people could simply use the camera on their smartphone, scan the QR code of the overflowing bin which then notifies the local authority. This could then be expanded to include the submission of other issues, like broken street-lights.

Meanwhile in the other side of our space, Maria Smickersgill, an intern who is interested in data journalism, covered Group 2.

First up was Jujar Panesar from Cent DS. The burgeoning engineering simulation company talked us through how a microgeneration scheme - similar to that implemented in household solar panel electricity generation - could help Yorkshire Water reduce their water consumption by 22.9%. Cent DS' 'smart water butt' plan would see individual households install a water butt to collect rainfall which would be attached to the house's plumbing and, most importantly, would be linked via the consumers Wi-Fi to a smart meter, so the consumers could measure their own water consumption and at-home production. Beyond this, the smart meter and smart butt would also be able to generate real time measurements for Yorkshire Water. Based on the figure of 33.2m of annual rainfall be household, there is potential for the average household to make an annual saving of 44.86. Therefore, consumers would see the water butt pay for itself then eventually begin to generate a profit.

Next up was Neale from Dales Land Net who talked about the role they could play in gathering data on NFM schemes which have been introduced. They proposed working with multiple stakeholders, including a number of Yorkshire councils, Save 9, iCASP and the Environment Agency, to install sensors to monitor river level, ground temperature, flow and ground moisture. They proposed rolling out the measures in the initial target area of Backstone Beck in the Ilkley catchment area. This scheme would be a pilot which would allow Dales Land Net and their project stakeholders to better establish the costs of expanding NFM monitoring on this scale to other areas. Neale Hall, head of Dales Land Net, emphasised that his company's sensors were low-cost but high-quality; necessary characteristics when so many sensors will have to be deployed to cover such a large geographical area.

Dales Land Net announced their intention to collaborate with Save 9, who can provide the internet connectivity the sensors will rely on in the rural areas in which they will be implanted.

An example of perfect timing, Save 9 were the next to pitch, presenting their new initiative to expand their rural networks to Ilkley Moor, and to collaborate in monitoring water data there. Save 9 are looking at three specific locations in that area where they will collect data, store it and then share it. The company highlighted that it is only useful implementing NFM measures like leaky damns to slow down the flow of water if you are certain that dry land run off is a cause of flooding. Through monitoring, they can answer these questions and provide more informative data on NFM strategies. They admitted there were challenges they faced - such as sensor selection and development, improving signal reach and finding strong enough internet backhaul - however, they already had solutions in mind for how they could overcome these issues.

Last to pitch in Group 2 was InTech Wi-Fi, a company which enables change in towns and cities through digital infrastructure and services. Aiming to use tech to increase tourism, drive spending, and improve communication and the user experience for Harrogate. Using Wi-Fi-enabled devices, InTech aims to collect open data about footfall and peoples movement's around the town centre to understand where people are and aren't visiting and help create strategies to entice people to venture to less-well-visited areas. The market for apps is overcrowded, claims InTech. Their solution: create a shared open platform which would act as a repository for all the information collected by various apps. Based on this, they could provide specific demographic and proximity-targeted marketing. By providing open connectivity they can provide support for mobile devices and using a single data platform, where users will be able to plug in open datasets, they can begin to collect real data on a county wide level. Although the pitch focused specifically on Harrogate, InTech said they would also like to replicate this approach for North Yorkshire County Council.

With all of the pitches complete, it was time to wrap up and give out prizes. Alongside each of the challenge-owners offering their own opportunities, it is with the kind support from Nexus at University of Leeds that we were also able to offer a prize to EVERY PARTICIPANT! That's right, everyone went away with something to show our appreciation for their time and hard work. Everyone wins ;)

Stay tuned for updates about all of these exciting ideas as the challenge owners and SMEs work together to make them happen across the region.