The Oxford Flood Network – a citizen based initiative

Building a citizen-led flood detection network using the Internet of Things

The Oxford Flood Network is a citizen-based initiative for water-level monitoring sensors – a “guerilla network” in the spirit of the crowdsourced Japan Radiation Map created by the public around Fukushima in response to a lack of official information.

Ben Ward of the
Oxford Flood Network

Oxford is prone to flooding. Although the Environment Agency provide blanket warnings, they have limited resources. To help understand flooding at a street level more data is needed on the streams, groundwater and complex basin of the Thames & Cherwell – a higher resolution data. The Oxford Flood Network project aims to show how to monitor water levels in local communities using the Internet of Things and wireless sensors. In the floodplain of Oxford members of the local community are installing their own water-level monitoring sensors and sharing local knowledge about rivers, streams and groundwater to build a better, hyper-local picture of the situation on the ground.

“My neighbour’s house has a borehole underneath and he measures the current groundwater level with a dipstick.” says Ben Ward of Love Hz, the organisation co-ordinating the initiative. “Friends a few roads away currently have water sloshing about under their living room in their floor void. These would both be great indicators of imminent flooding and could easily be added to the Internet of Things.”

In the last year, the project has been supported by Nominet UK, the not-for-profit company responsible for managing the .uk domain of the Internet. The partnership allows the Nominet R&D group to work with a true Internet of Things application that has a real impact on people in a Smart City setting. The project aims to ramp up to 100 sensors covering Oxford’s rivers and streams over the next year providing an unparralled level of detail of the waterways of Oxford.

Like to engage with this project? Follow the Oxford Flood Network project on Twitter, read our blog or participate via the Oxford Flood Network forum.

Pedalling Innovation – Oxford’s first cycling hackathon

By: Agile Ox

5th February 2016 @ 5:00 pm6th February 2016 @ 6:00 pm

woman holding bicycle

Following on from the success of June’s ‘Can you see the future of cycling in Oxford’ event, Oxford’s Environmental Sustainability Team and agile-ox are coming together again to bring you a full cycle hackathon, in association with Smart Oxford and the Broken Spoke Bike Co-op.

Cycling in this city could be a better experience for all. We want to be part of a process of improving it – but to make it better, we first need to understand the current experience and challenges more fully. And for that we need information and ‘data’.

Since our last event, it has become clear that there is a data knowledge gap around cycling in the county, and this is holding us back from taking effective action to improve the experience.

For example, have you ever had trouble finding a safe place to park your bike? Bike storage can seem like a challenge in the city, and it is something which we could take practical action to improve. However the fact is we don’t actually currently understand how much of a challenge it is. We simply lack the data to truly understand the depth of the problem (if it is in fact a real problem at all).

To enable us as a county to take constructive and targeted action to make cycling in Oxford great, we want YOU to help us answer the following questions:

How do we capture data about cycling in Oxfordshire?

What do we want/need to know about cycling in Oxford?

And how could we capture the information we need?


Tickets & information:

Getting critical

By: University of Oxford

Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute analyses the risks to the nation’s infrastructure

diagram of national infrastructure

When it comes to Britain’s national infrastructure, providers of vital services – water, electricity, gas, waste, transport and communications – tend to operate and manage as independent entities, each ploughing their own individual furrow.

But research and analysis by the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute (ECI) reveals how interdependent our infrastructures are. The ECI’s research has resulted not only in a better understanding of the consequences of interdependent failures but also in improved means of managing the risks of failure.

The flagship project in which the ECI is involved is the Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC). The ITRC informs the analysis, planning and design of national infrastructure, through the development and demonstration of new decision support tools – and with a keen eye on the impact of climate change. The ITRC works with 40 partners across government and industry and 10 academic institutions, and is led by Professor Jim Hall, director of the ECI. The ECI is responsible for project coordination and leadership of interdependent systems model development.

In 2013, the ITRC delivered a national infrastructure ‘hotspots’ analysis for Infrastructure UK, a unit within the Treasury which works on the UK’s long-term infrastructure priorities and secures private sector investment. The hotspot analysis was developed from an original idea by David Penhallurick of Infrastructure UK. Dr Raghav Pant and Mr Scott Thacker, at the ECI, led the team which provided the infrastructure hotspots analysis. The team collaborated with Dr. Stuart Barr and David Alderson at Newcastle University to develop the data and model outputs.

Working with Professor Hall, in a project managed by Miriam Mendes, Dr Pant explains that “we created a visual representation of ‘infrastructure criticality hotspots’, places where there is a concentration of critical infrastructure, measured according to number of customers directly or indirectly dependent on the infrastructures in that location. The nature of interdependencies among infrastructure providers, and their potential consequences in the event of failure, are not well understood. We took a holistic view, seeing them as inextricably linked instead of as individual organisations.”

The ITRC’s criticality hotspots work has generated great interest not only among the academic community but also from several other governmental policy-makers and industry practitioners. No wonder, for its analysis involved testing 200,000 failure scenarios; then, for each one, the consequential infrastructure impacts and the numbers of customers directly or indirectly affected were calculated and mapped. Having analysed the whole of England and Wales to identify locations that are particularly significant in terms of the potential consequences of infrastructure failure, there was a surprising result, as Dr Pant explains:

“The analysis of electricity and dependent assets identified hotspots in large urban areas. However, the hotspots are typically located around the periphery of urban areas rather than in the centre. A large number of criticality hotspots exist outside urban areas, where there are large facilities upon which many customers depend or where several critical infrastructures are concentrated in one location.”

The ECI’s research and modelling systems are now being deployed in a number of other sectors, with the ITRC having an impact at, among others, Defra, Committee for Climate Change, county councils, the Met Office, DECC and the National Grid. Further reports and briefing documents will be published in 2014 and 2015.

Funded by: The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council


This article originally appeared as the Oxford Impacts case study Getting Critical.  Find out more about the Oxford Impacts case studies series here.

Oxford bids to become European capital of innovation

By: Oxford City Council

Oxford is aiming to be crowned Europe’s Capital of Innovation 2016 and win a prize of €950,000 to build on the city’s achievements and create a lasting culture of innovation across many aspects of people’s lives.

picture of Oxford Brookes University robot

The City Council is coordinating a multi-sector team that includes the County Council, the two universities, local businesses and third sector organisations, to bid for the European Commission’s ’iCapital’ award. The competition was originally launched in 2014, with Barcelona as the inaugural winner.

The prize rewards the best performing city in connecting citizens, public organisations, education and business sectors with innovative activity that includes products, tools and concepts of processes that make a place better for people to live. 

Oxford’s offer to Europe is to proactively share its innovation strategy with cities right across the continent while also ensuring more local people can benefit from the opportunities created by innovation. The team behind the bid will demonstrate the city’s ambitious plans to scale up the benefits of innovative activities across all sectors and communities by actively involving residents.

The bid partners recognise the wider benefits the iCapital accolade could bring to Oxford in terms of sharing ideas with Europe, promotion of Oxford’s famous brand, wider funding opportunities for research, business investment and civic pride.

Councillor Bob Price, Leader of Oxford City Council, said: “We have a world class innovation ecosystem and we want to spread this widely across our communities. We will offer a bursary scheme to link young people from Oxford to other European cities to work on innovative ideas and schemes that will improve the quality of life. We want to share Oxford’s energy and skills in a spirit of partnership with cities across Europe. We will share, learn, collaborate, create and re-invest the benefits to improve housing, transport, health services and communications.”

Lynn Shepherd, Executive Chair of Venturefest Oxford, said: “Innovation and entrepreneurship have always been part of Oxford’s rich heritage and Venturefest Oxford is proud of the part it plays in this vibrant ecosystem. I truly believe that Oxford is in a strong position to win this prize and I’m very pleased to be part of the bid team.”
The competition closes on 18 November 2015 and an independent high level jury will select the most “innovative, inspiring, integrated, interactive and impactful” winner in March 2016.


This article first appeared on the Oxford City Council website on 16th Nov 2015.


Preparing for the future – the first Resilient Oxford workshop

By: Smart Oxford

Cornmarket - street in Oxford

On 26th October Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council and the University of Oxford brought together a wide range stakeholders from across Oxford’s public & private sectors, academia, and local communities, for the first Resilent Oxford workshop, to help identify and evaluate the city’s challenges and priorities, and to help the city prepare for the forthcoming 100 Resilient Cities Challenge.

Resilience is about a Oxford’s ability to continue to be a functional and liveable city in the face of the physical, social and economic challenges that face it in the 21st century. This includes its ability to respond to and recover from shocks such as  fires, floods, epidemic, power failure or terrorist attack.  It’s also about how well we can cope with longer-term stresses such as high unemployment, unaffordable housing, chronic transport problems or aging infrastructure.

Participants came from a wide range of city groups and organisations including the Oxford Flood Network, community associations, community action groups, the Low Carbon Hub, British Gas, the Ecosystems Knowledge Network, the Environmental Change Institute, Nominet, Ordnance Survey, Oxford AHSN,  the Oxford Bus Company,  the Oxford Internet Institute, Wild Oxfordshire, the Oxfordshire Local Economic Partnership, the City & County Councils, University of Oxford, and Oxford Brookes University, as well as private citizens.

The workshop gave these participants the opportunity to work together in a cross-disciplinary way, to help build a picture of what city resilience means for Oxford –  the shocks an stresses that are likely to affect the city as well as recognising the characteristics that make Oxford an attractive place to live.

 The word cloud below illustrates the breadth of issues and those commonly identified by the groups.

word cloud


In group sessions, the participants identified major stressors such as a lack of sufficient and affordable housing and good transport links with the surrounding areas, evidenced by the ratio of house prices or rent to average earnings (the highest in the United Kingdom).  Regular traffic congestion problems were also a common theme, which the groups linked to the to physical constraints of the city area: the flood plain of the Thames River, and housing costs that forced workers in the city to live in surrounding towns and villages (with 46,000 commuters travelling in each day). 

The groups explored the interconnections between they key stressors, such as unaffordable housing leading to strains on the transport system, pressures to build on the city’s flood plains, and issues of poverty in the city, with the insight that solutions to these problems needed to take into account multiple stresses simultaneously.  

Inequality was identified as a key issue, with groups feeding back that unaffordability of housing means that those on below average salaries have less access to life in the city, and are more exposed to poverty.  (According to the latest Index of Multiple Deprivation Oxford has ten areas that fall within the 20% most deprived in England, and men from the least deprived areas can expect to live 8.8 years longer than those in the most deprived areas.)

The collaborative learning from the day was an invaluable resource and will feed into our immediate plans – to bid to the Rockefeller Foundation for funding for a Chief Resilience Officer – and also longer-term into the resilience planning for city.

Thanks to all who attended for a lively and intense discussion, and your insights and perspectives on what city resilience means for Oxford.

Header image: Cornmarket Street, Oxford, by Timofei Shatrov aka Grue, Creative Commons 3.0, original image cropped.

So much awesome stuff #StartedinOxford

By: agile-ox, University of Oxford

This week, Isis Innovation is celebrating the fact that Oxford is one of the most innovative regions in the UK, by asking folks on twitter to tweet with examples of Oxford Innovation, using #StartedinOxford. See below for a full picture from Storify.

Here’s my first two-pence worth:

tweet - 'so much awesome stuff started in Oxford'

There are lots more – and if you haven’t heard of any of the above, go check them out.

Got ideas of your own? Join the conversation – #StartedinOxford



This article orginally appeared on the agile-ox website on 10 November 2015.

Oxford spinout uses phase change materials for smart glazing and displays

By: University of Oxford

The discovery by researchers at the University of Oxford that it is possible to use extremely thin, flexible, transparent layers of a new smart material to create low-energy, high-resolution displays and glazing is to be commercialised by spinout company Bodle Technologies.

Bodle Technologies founders

Oxford Sciences Innovation, the £320m investment company established to provide capital and scaling expertise to Oxford spinouts, is the lead investor in the new company. Other investors include the University of Oxford Isis Fund II, managed by Parkwalk Advisors and the Oxford Technology and Innovations EIS Fund led by George Robinson. Dr David Fyfe, former CEO of Cambridge Display Technologies and currently Executive Chairman of Oxford PV, will join as Executive Chairman.

The invention, by a team led by Professor Harish Bhaskaran and his postdoctoral researcher Peiman Hosseini at the University’s Department of Materials, attracted attention from both industry and investors following the publication of a paper in Nature in 2014.

Professor Bhaskaran said: ‘This new approach allows us to create materials which can not only manipulate light very cleverly, but are also very cost-effective. We will be creating smart glazing which allows only certain wavelengths of light into a building, giving instant control over both the heat and light being transmitted, and over the appearance of the glass. We will also be working on other applications for these thin film materials including novel reflective displays and security markings.

‘This technology is capable of providing vivid colour displays which appear similar to paper, yet with very high resolution. It is also capable of rendering extremely high-resolution videos that can be seen in bright sunlight.’

The University’s commercialisation company Isis Innovation supported the team by filing patents, building the business plan and marketing the opportunity.

Isis Innovation managing director Linda Naylor said: ‘This is a great example of the Oxford innovation ecosystem at work, strengthened now by Oxford Sciences Innovation as a key investor in the community.’

Hosseini – also a Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub member – will join Bodle as Chief Technology Officer. The technology has already received backing from Oxford’s University Challenge Seed Fund to finance the initial prototyping work and market analysis.

The research was funded by grants from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Watch the @UniofOxford Twitter account and #StartedinOxford hashtag this week for more stories of innovation and entrepreneurship from Oxford.


This article first appeared on the University of Oxford website in November 2015.