Intel to turn London into smart cities playground

London is set to become a test bed for the development of new green technologies which could help cut emissions and improve the capital’s resilience to environmental pressures, after IT giant Intel launched a major sustainable cities project.

Speaking at a launch event at Number 10 Downing Street, Intel chief technology officer Justin Rattner joined Chancellor George Osborne to sign an agreement launching the Sustainable Connected Cities initiative (ICRI), which will be run in partnership with University College London and Imperial College London.

The institute plans to collect and use data to develop a raft of clean technologies, such as applications capable of providing individuals with their personal energy or water consumption, or smart monitoring devices to help local authorities better understand and plan new infrastructure projects.

Research will focus on six key areas: transport, energy systems, pollution, the built environment, water and waste, and health and wellbeing.

This summer’s Olympic Games will provide the first opportunity for the team of researchers to examine how the city copes with a huge influx of visitors over a period of eight weeks. The institute will also install a so-called “ambient intelligence platform” later this year, featuring sensors capable of collecting environmental data such as energy consumption and noise from across the city.

“We’re all walking around with our own little sensor platforms in our smart phones and in the vehicles you drive every day we just need to connect them,” said Rattner.

“Once we have them connected you’ll be amazed at the remarkable advances that take place. I think what we’ll be doing in terms of city infrastructure as well as products and services for the city dwellers will surpass even our imaginations.”

He described London as the ideal location to research sustainable city initiatives because of a rich cultural mix that represents “a microcosm of the planet”.

“London itself is the fifth largest city in the world, it has the largest GDP in Europe and importantly there are over 300 languages and 200 ethnic communities that adds to its diversity… that’s one of the reasons why we’re here,” he said. “You have to do this at scale, you have to turn the city into a laboratory.”

The new Institute will initially employ around a dozen researchers focused on applying computing technologies to improve city infrastructure from a social, economic and environmental point of view.

Edward Astle, Pro Rector Enterprise at Imperial College London, said the project would also seek to introduce a network of sensors that would detect a water leak and then divert the flow of water to prevent more damage. He added that the mooted system would be able to wirelessly transmit information to transport authorities so that traffic could be diverted, preventing congestion and general city-wide disruption.

Intel refused to reveal the value of its investment in the UK, saying only that it formed part of a total £48m annual UK investment programme.

The company also confirmed that it received no government funding for the initiative, although the announcement was made in Downing Street to recognise the key role the Chancellor played in bringing together Intel with the two universities.

Osborne welcomed the decision as an endorsement of the government’s efforts to develop a silicon roundabout in East London.

“This is going to take all the information that exists in a modern city… and find new ways of bringing that all together to make life in the city in the 21st century easier and better for people,” he said.

“It will improve the quality of life and help new products that can help us navigate our way through life. It’s fantastic that’s going to be happening here in London.”