Low Carbon Oxford

Launched in 2010, Low Carbon Oxford (LCO) is a pioneering city-wide programme of collaboration between private, public and non-profit organisations with the aim of ensuring Oxford’s future as a sustainable and low carbon city.

Oxford City Council took the lead on setting up and funding the Low Carbon Oxford initiative in order to make progress towards the Council’s ambitious city-wide carbon reduction target of 40% by 2020 (based on 2005-06 baseline). Barbara Hammond of the Low Carbon Hub is the Director of LCO, and the day to day
running of the LCO network is led by the Hub.

Visit the Low Carbon Oxford website for more information on the programme.

The objectives of the Low Carbon Oxford programme are:

  • to deliver pathfinder carbon emissions of 3% year on year,
  • to achieve 40% carbon reduction by 2020 and 80% by 2050,
  • to create more ‘green jobs’ and a sustainable economy,
  • for Oxford to become an exemplar low carbon city for the UK.

These common goals can only be achieved by working together and drawing on the strengths of different sector organisations.

The Low Carbon Oxford programme was launched on 14 October 2010 when 15 Pathfinder organisations signed the Low Carbon Oxford Charter which can be downloaded below:

PDF icon Low Carbon Oxford Charter (950kB PDF)


PDF icon Low Carbon Oxford Building Momentum Report

Digital Working Groups – Call for interest

Smart Oxford, in affiliation with Digital Oxford and the Digital Catapult, is making an open invitation for membership of Oxford-based Interest Groups in the following areas:

      • Smart City Technologies

        This group will work with the Technology Working Group of the Smart Oxford initiative, to help provide ideas, input, and expertise to the Smart Oxford programme.

        This is a cross-cutting group that will underpin a number of domain-specific Working Groups defining real-life problem statements in the city.  Once these problem statements are published, the Technology Working Group will help identify technology solutions that tackle these challenges. In the meantime, the initial focus is on identifying existing data and data systems within the city and identifying core architectures and technologies that may be used to support a Smart Oxford.

        Group structure will be informal and is initially expected to take the form of local meetups, with the opportunity over time for members to participate and collaborate in an advisory capacity to the Smart Oxford programme on an as-needed basis.

        The Technology Working Group is currently steered by a sub-committee from the Smart Oxford Project Board: Bryan Marshall (Nominet); Bill Imlah (Oxford Internet Institute); and Tony Hart (Oxfordshire LEP).

      • Personal Data, Privacy and Trust

        This network aims to bring together individuals, groups and businesses in Oxford and surrounding areas with an interest in working with, or as, information owners and technologists, to explore the issues and opportunities to work with personal, proprietary and confidential data without compromising the privacy, security and control individuals have around their data. This will be a sub-group of the Digital Catapult’s and related partners Personal Data & Trust Network. Membership to the network is free of charge via www.pdtn.org.

      • Data Catalyser

        This group is for organisations, groups and individuals who are interested in working with the Digital Catapult’s newly-announced Data Catalyser, a suite of services enabling organisations to create value from sharing and mixing closed datasets.

        Participants maybe based locally, or could be a national or international organisation with a local presence. The Data Catalyser, a suite of services, will create an ecosystem that brings together data providers and data experts. The platform provides the ability to unlock opportunities for new products, services, tools, insights and innovations. Membership to the network is free of charge via http://www.digitalcatapultcentre.org.uk/open-calls/data-catalyser/.

The call for interest in Smart City technologies is now closed

You can register your interest in the Oxford group for Digital Catapult’s Personal Data and Trust Network here and in the Data Catalyser here.

The Internet of Smart Things: using mobile phones as low-cost sensors

By: University of Oxford

Research at Oxford is demonstrating how cheap smartphones can be turned into low-cost sensors in a wide range of contexts.

Smartphones have reduced dramatically in price and can now cost as little as ten pounds. But they are effectively sophisticated computers with a range of high-tech features that make them highly adaptable as monitoring devices. Another great advantage is that they are immensely accessible: everyone knows how to use a smartphone app.

smartphones attached to electricity meters

Dr Russell Layberry of the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) has pioneered the use of smartphones for a range of applications such as monitoring energy usage, micro-climate, and the environment.

In comparison with expensive real-time monitoring systems, Android phones are mass manufactured, standardised platforms that offer a wealth of sensing and communication at a fraction of the cost. The microphone socket, for example, can be used as a sensitive volt-meter, allowing it to be wired up to an inexpensive data-logger (a programmable microchip connected to an array of basic sensors) and used to monitor anything that can be converted into a voltage.

Combined with the right low-cost ancillaries it can measure temperature, gas or electricity consumption. Even if no electrical signal is easily accessible, the phone’s accelerometer can tell whether a boiler pump is running, and image recognition software helps to ‘read’ meters and transmit the information.

A wide range of functions are possible. To measure moisture content in rock, for example, a voltage signal is passed via the phone’s headphone socket through the rock. Dry rock does not conduct electricity; wet rock, however, is a good conductor. The measured voltage therefore varies according to the degree of moisture, and gives a reading that indicates the moisture conditions of the rock.

And smart phones come with in-built communication. Once data has been collected it can be transferred using mobile or wi-fi networks. Their portability further helps in gathering data from as many locations as possible and building up a detailed picture over time without the need for multiple sensors.

The adapted smartphone is powered by the phone’s battery but can be configured to use only a tiny amount of power. Coupled with a small solar panel, it’s estimated that it could be self-sufficient for up to 2 years, or until the end of battery life. The phones can even monitor their own battery levels, turning themselves on and off to save power and deciding how often to send data – effectively making them able to run indefinitely.

The Dülük Baba Tepesi temple site in Turkey

The Dülük Baba Tepesi temple site in Turkey, where SmartStones are being used. Photo © Peter Juelich 2014

The applications for this technology are extremely varied. Katrin Wilhelm, part of the Oxford Rock Breakdown Lab in the School of Geography and the Environment is currently testing their use as remote environmental climate sensors on archaeological sites, monitoring fluctuations in temperature, humidity and light levels. The devices are called ‘Smart Stones’, since the plan is to disguise them as rocks to deter thieves and protect them from the elements.

Micro-climate measurements are made every five seconds and collected via an app on the phone. They are then streamed to the lab in Oxford via the 3G network, providing extremely detailed data that can be analysed at a distance and used to inform practical conservation measures. The monitor is vastly cheaper than other systems, which can run into thousands of pounds, and the data is more reliable and accurate than from local weather stations.

Katrin is also engaged in a pilot project with the former home to George Washington’s ancestors, Sulgrave Manor in Northamptonshire, monitoring the micro-climate inside the building as a key to preservation. Smartphone-based monitors could even be wired to switch dehumidifiers or heating systems on and off depending on the data readings, enabling indoor micro-climates to be controlled on a room by room basis, up till now, costly and prone to failure by other methods.

In additional, an art gallery is exploring the use of a light sensor attached to an adapted smartphone to automatically control the exposure of pictures and documents. Another potential use is in agriculture, where stored grain loses value if its moisture content is over a certain limit. Russ Layberry is also investigating the use of smartphones as air pollution monitors, the alternatives to which can cost city centres around £10,000 per year to install and run.

The next step is commercialisation. The research has attracted a NERC Pathfinder grant to investigate the commercial potential of the monitors, and it’s hoped that they will soon be out of the research lab and in to the streets, fields and buildings where they could make a world of difference.


This article originally appeared as the Oxford Impacts case study Smartphones become Smart Stones.  Find out more about the Oxford Impacts case studies series here.

Join the Oxford Flood Network Pilot

By: Ben Ward, Oxford Flood Network

Oxford Flood Network logo

At Oxford Flood Network we’re building a citizen sensing project to collect detailed information on river levels around Oxford.

If you live in Oxford city, around the Thames, Cherwell, Oxford Canal or one of the many streams and think you’d like to host an Oxford Flood Network sensor and gateway in your home then now’s the time to let us know.

a flood sensor

We’re collecting a list of people who are happy to host a sensor (50mm x 50mm 100mm) and/or gateway device (90mm x 60mm x 26mm).

  • To install a sensor we need an overhang over a waterway, stream, river or ditch within 200 metres of a broadband router.
  • To install the gateway we need an Ethernet port on your broadband router and use of a plug. Once connected it generates a tiny amount of data each hour.

There is no cost to you for the devices, but you will need to help us keep it up and running by checking it periodically online and perhaps changing the battery once a year. We’ll use the sensors to create a detailed map of water levels around the city in higher detail than the Environment Agency’s existing sensors.

If you add yourself to the list of locations we can talk to you about hosting a gateway or sensor. Don’t worry, we’ll never share these details outside Oxford Flood Network without your consent.

Event: environmental challenges and digital technology: exploring opportunities for collaboration in Oxfordshire

15 June 2015, West Wing, Saïd Business School, Park End Street, Oxford OX1 1HP

logos of ECI, Low Carbon Oxford and Agile Ox

A collaborative discussion day for researchers, business, and public sector, hosted by the Environmental Change Institute‘s Agile Ox programme, focussing on environmental problems and digital solutions.

Developments in affordable sensors, the Internet of Things, and accompanying step-change in potentials for data collection, analysis and visualisation have created new opportunities for the monitoring and management of environmental challenges.

This Knowledge Exchange dialogue event brings together groups and individuals from research, business, public sector and civic society, with an interest in digital technologies and programmes in the context of environmental issues facing Oxfordshire to explore current work and opportunities surrounding digital technology as a response to some of today’s most pressing environmental challenges.

The event will begin with brief presentations showcasing some current environmentally-focused digital tech with its roots in Oxfordshire, before inviting attendees to share current interests, projects and needs. A buffet lunch will follow, moving to an opportunity for smaller group working in the early afternoon.

Supported by the University of Oxford’s Social Science Division.

Cycle BOOM: helping shape cities to accommodate older cycling needs

By: Tim Jones, Oxford Brookes University

The cycle BOOM study is using a wide range of approaches and data to produce a rich and integrated understanding of older people’s cycling. Particular attention is being given to the physical, social and technological circumstances in which older cycling is situated and the significance of cycling for older people’s health and wellbeing.

It is our belief that a mixed-method approach can produce much more insightful and robust research findings than can be generated from studies that utilise only a single approach. We recognise the varying strengths and weaknesses of quantitative and qualitative research and how the strengths of one approach can overcome the weakness of the other.

“The complexity of our research problems calls for answers beyond simple numbers in a quantitative sense or words in a qualitative sense. A combination of both forms of data provides the most complete analysis of problems. Researchers situate numbers in the contexts and words of participants, and they frame the words of participants with numbers, trends, and statistical results. Both forms of data are necessary today.” Creswell & Plano Clark (2011) Designing and Conducting Mixed Methods Research.

It is in this spirit that cycle BOOM utilizes a suite of methods across four case study sites.

Life history interview (photo: Bob Pomfret, Media Unit, Oxford Brookes)

Life history interview (photo: Bob Pomfret, Media Unit, Oxford Brookes University)

Biographic (‘cycling life-history’) interviews are helping us to understand the role of past experiences of cycling and the influence of life events such as family and social relationships, employment and wider social, economic, environmental and technological change. We are generating rich narratives and setting cycling episodes in the context of life changes.

Mobile observation and video (photo: Bob Pomfret, Media Unit, Oxford Brookes University)

Mobile observation and video (photo: Bob Pomfret, Media Unit, Oxford Brookes University)

Building on this rich contextual information, we are also utilizing mobile mini-ethnographic observations and video recording riders accomplishing routine journeys by cycle. Using the video footage as a prompt for post-ride interviews, we are attempting to ‘get-close to’, and make sense of, older people’s everyday experience of cycling and its effect on wellbeing. Using novel technologies we are also trying to represent how interaction in specific spaces and at specific times affects wellbeing by linking a variety of psychosocial and physiological measures with the geo-located narratives that unfold during post-ride interviews.

Cycling and Wellbeing study (photo: Raleigh UK)

Cycling and Wellbeing study (photo: Raleigh UK)

A cohort of new and returning cycle users in Oxford and Reading are taking part in a unique eight (8) week cycling and wellbeing study This is documenting and measuring how (re-)engagement with both conventional and electric cycling (using state of the art Raleigh e-bikes) affects health and general wellbeing.

In addition we are examining existing sources of data on older cycling trends and experience from national datasets and previous cycling studies. A series of cycling stakeholder interviews in each of our four case study areas is helping us to understand how cycling is unfolding in those areas and reveal the level of attention given to older cycling. International field visits to Germany and Spain were conducted earlier this year so we could learn from places where older cycling is actively being promoted as part of a more democratic landscape for cycling.

We hope that by using mixed-methods and harnessing multiple sources of data we will be able to provide a detailed understanding of older cycling and wellbeing in relation to physical design of the environment and new technology as well as the social circumstances under which cycling prevails. The challenge is true integration of the different approaches.

The cycle BOOM project team is keen to translate findings into practical measures that have a positive impact on society. We are already in the process of producing a documentary video highlighting older cycling experience. We are also producing an urban design audit toolkit specifically targeted at planners and urban designers to enable them to develop more sensitive and sensuous landscapes where older cycling can flourish.

The cycle BOOM team is not satisfied with just describing and interpreting the world. As ‘critical researchers’ we seek to provide a compelling evidence base on ways that cycling can be promoted among current and future older generations and to effect change through multiple channels.

“For several decades, social science researchers, especially those from qualitative paradigmatic viewpoints, and those from anthropology and human geography, have called for an understanding of the nature of and appreciation for the subjectivity of the principal investigator as vital and needed processes for self-reflection and a determination of ‘self’ within social constructs under investigation (Behar, 1994; Kirschner, 1987; Rose, 1997). Dr. Robin Thorne’s “dissertationscholar blogspot”

As far as our own positionality is concerned, I and members of the cycle BOOM team readily acknowledge our vested interest in the outcomes of our research. Take a look at our profile page and you will see that cycling was, and still is, a significant part of our lives. But we remain unashamed in our personal desire to shape cities to accommodate older cycling needs. We are not academic automata. We too have values and also want better cycling futures. The cycle BOOM study is also our own personal cycling mobility pension plan and that of our children and our children’s children.

This posting originally appeared in September 2014 in the cycle BOOM blog.

If technology is the answer to Smart Cities, what is the question?

By: Adam Leach, Nominet

Smart City  diagram

Earlier this week I attended the 4th annual Smart to Future Cities event in London. I was attracted to the conference by the mix of attendees, and the fact that the majority of speakers were city authorities and councils and not technology vendors pushing their products (although technology or more precisely technology adoption still dominated the discussion).

If smart cities and their associated technologies hold so much potential, asked the speakers, why can’t we see wide spread adoption of these technologies in cities around the world? Is it all just techwash? One speaker, paraphrasing Cedric Price asked ‘if technology is the answer, what is the question?’

As it turns out smart city questions are complex and numerous: ‘can carbon emissions be lowered while providing more power to a growing population?’, ‘can traffic be re-routed in real-time and reduce pollution?’, ‘can congestion on the roads be reduced through more efficient parking schemes?’. Technology can provide answers to all these and many other complex questions, all of which should help make our cities better places to live in. Many examples were given of smart city projects across the globe from autonomous cars in Milton Keynes to smart waste management in Santander, all of which show that technology can provide the answer.

However, obstacles still remain Despite clear benefits it is still not clear who will pay for these solutions. In a panel discussion Joe Dignan (Future City Catapult) argued the best way to overcome these barriers is to follow the “build-it-and-they-will-come” strategy (I’m paraphrasing both Joe and the Field of Dreams).

There are certainly huge benefits in this approach and Nominet has experienced this first hand with the Oxford Flood Network. Starting with a real Internet of Things solution to a real world problem has not only provided many valuable lessons it has also accelerated conversations with partners, collaborators, government, universities and potential customers.

Build-it-and-they-will-come requires an initial investment from somewhere; typically this comes from private companies (such as Nominet) often in partnership with central and local government. While this is great for demonstrators and R&D trials it doesn’t provide a sustainable model for widespread smart city adoption.

Meanwhile Gartner places the Internet of Things (Smart Cities technological cousin) at the top of the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’ in its Hype Cycle, poised to plummet into the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’. The discussion at the Smart City event about the difficulty around business cases may well be what tips Smart Cities and its related technologies down into the trough.

This is not the end of the road for Smart Cities, it will be left to those who can see past the disillusionment to persevere and build demonstrators and trials that not only prove the technology but also prove the business case for wide scale deployment.

 The current situation with Smart City and Internet of Things adoption puts me in mind of this quote from Bill Gates:

 “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction”

 – Adam

This article was previously published on the Nominet R&D blog