Document: Interest and activities in smart cities at the University of Oxford

By: Bill Imlah, University of Oxford

University of Oxford has produced a document outlining its interest and activities in smart cities

In May 2016, a survey was sent out across the University of Oxford, asking the following questions of research groups:

  • Which group(s) are you part of, or responsible for?
  • How do their activities relate to urban/smart-city themes (or to Oxford / Oxfordshire)?
  • Which group members are engaged in those activities? (Postdoc RA or above)?
  • What would you like to see your group(s) do in Oxford or Oxfordshire?
  • Why would Oxford or Oxfordshire be a good location for that?
  • If you had a budget of £3M, what smart-city or local project(s) would you propose?

The feedback was collated by the Knowledge Exchange and Impact Team, part of Research Services at the University, to create a landscape document outlining interest and activities in smart cities at the University of Oxford.

Download the document here.


Image: “Zoom”, Chris Dawkins, Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, cropped

Forthcoming hackathon – RiverHack 1.0

By: agile-ox

October 14 @ 7:00 pm – October 15 @ 8:00 pm

Oxford Hackspace, Oxford Centre for Innovation, New Road, Oxford OX1 1BY

Join us for this community-built and -driven project, run by partners from Oxford Hackspace, Centre For Ecology and Hydrology, Agile Ox, Wild Oxfordshire, Earthwatch, and


Water quality is essential for good river health. It sustains ecological processes that support fish, plants, wetlands and birdlife. Our water resource in the Thames catchment is of major environmental, social and economic value to the whole South East region of England. It contributes to farming, fishing and mineral extraction as well as recreation and tourism. If water quality deteriorates, the value of the entire water resource will slowly diminish. At present 75% of UK rivers and lakes fail to reach European standards for ecosystem health and controlling pollution caused by excessive nutrients and pesticides escaping into our water courses costs billions of pounds.

Being able to predict changes in the condition of certain water quality indicators in advance would give water quality managers and other end users such as anglers and swimmers information that could help them to plan their activities. Current knowledge of forecasting these indicators is limited and rely heavily on direct observations from the field. However, with advances in big data analytics there may be many opportunities to bring together information from many different sources and predict how changes in conditions are likely to influence water quality. Can you make a difference without being in the field?

Citizen science data can also contribute, both by ground-truthing the predictions and by helping more people to get out and enjoy the rivers, understanding more about river health and the interconnections between the way we manage land, air and water, in creating conditions that can improve or damage water quality.


Becoming part of the different communities working to protect and enjoy our rivers is what the RiverHack challenge is about. You don’t have to be a trained environmental professional or volunteer on the ground to make a difference.

This challenge is to use your coding skills and creative thinking to help deliver the best information to end users like anglers canoeists and others members of the public interested in water quality, or make a forecast on water quality near the river you live. We’ve focused this challenge on forecasts and visualisation of water quality.

Join us to help build an app, using at least one big data technology or other technology, to meet one of the following aims:

  • predicting a specific water quality parameter
  • visualising the data to reflect the impacts of water quality to citizens or on environment.

Find out more at:


How do we create the Healthy Cities of the future?

By: Oxford Brookes University

In February 2016, Oxford Brookes revealed four new research projects which have received Newton Funding to support science and innovation partnerships that promote the economic development and welfare of targeted developing countries.

Dr Tim Jones, Senior Research Fellow for Oxford Brookes’ School of Built Environment is undertaking a research project in collaboration with three universities in Brazil. Tim explains how the research will attempt to “develop new approaches to mobility planning that seek to address health inequalities within urban areas.”  

Since the initiation of the World Health Organization’s Healthy Cities movement over thirty years ago there have been increased efforts to understand how the urban environment affects health outcomes and can produce more equitable health benefits. 

A key concern is the way in which the physical fabric of cities affects urban mobility and how this relates to health and wellbeing. 

Built environmental design supportive of walking and cycling (‘active mobility’) could help to promote moderate physical activity as part of daily travel routines, delay biological ageing and age-related conditions and improve overall health and wellbeing. 

In the developing countries of the Global South however, the rapid growth in private motorization and the lack of value placed on walking and cycling means the association between environmental attributes and active mobility are more complex. This is having a significant impact on the urban poor and low-income groups who already engage in, and rely on, walking and cycling (and public transport) to meet their daily travel needs. 

“Built environmental design supportive of walking and cycling (‘active mobility’) could help to promote moderate physical activity as part of daily travel routines, delay biological ageing and age-related conditions and improve overall health and wellbeing.”

Dr Tim Jones, Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Brookes University

The trend in the developed countries of the Global North meanwhile, and particularly in countries like the UK, is towards a decrease in physical activity and this is associated with more widespread private car use, environments which can lead to increased obesity and greater mechanisation in the home, workplace and public places. The implementation of healthy urban mobility as part of the broader Healthy Cities concept, therefore, presents serious challenges in both the Global South and Global North and requires different approaches towards its realisation. 

The focus of the BRAZIL-UK Healthy Urban Mobility (HUM) research is on understanding the impact of personal (im)mobility on both individual and community health and wellbeing of different neighbourhoods in Brazil and in the UK, and developing a participatory approach to support and develop healthy urban mobility and to address health inequalities and injustice. 

The investigation will use a mixed method approach comprising five specific field research components. These are: 

  1. spatial mapping to understand the physical and built environment context in which mobility takes place 
  2. a social survey to capture mobility and health and wellbeing profiles of selected communities 
  3. in-depth biographic interviews to understand role of past experiences of mobility and the rationale behind selected modes of mobility – ‘mobile trajectories’ 
  4. micro-ethnographies through mobile interviews to capture contemporary everyday experience of being (im)mobile 
  5. a participatory approach to involve the local community in identifying problems and solutions for healthy urban mobility and community wellbeing.

The work will focus in three Brazilian cities and one UK city: Brazilia (Federal State), Florianopolis (State of Santa Catarina), Porto Alegre (State of Rio Grande do Sul) and Oxford (Southern England). 

These are chosen because of their different spatial and demographic characteristics and the challenges they are facing in relation to promoting healthy urban mobility. 

Empirical research will be timed such that it will be conducted in parallel in both Brazil and the UK using exactly the same approach and methods so that the UK-BRAZIL multidisciplinary team can engage in co-learning and knowledge exchange and more specifically (a) evaluate the overall approach and methodologies; (b) compare datasets between cities and between Brazil and UK; and, (c) evaluate potential policies and delivery models to promote healthy urban mobility in different contexts. 

Through the combination of novel research methods to experiment and assess and actively involve communities and stakeholders in active dialogue and mutual learning we hope to develop new approaches to mobility planning that seek to address health inequalities within urban areas.

Further information on the Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development is available online.  Find out more about the School of Built Environment on the department’s webpages. 


 This article first appeared on the website of Oxford Brookes University on 12th August 2016.


Thumbnail image: Avenida São João, Diego Torres Silvestre, cropped, Creative Commons licence 2.0;

Oxford Workshop: Data Science for Local Government

By: Oxford Internet Institute

27th September 2016

A joint workshop between Oxford City Council, the Oxford Internet Institute and the Open Data Institute


Convenors: Jonathan Bright (OII), Mark Fransham (OCC) and Richard Norris (ODI)
Date: 27th of September 2016
Venue: Oxford Town Hall, Long Room

Register here: Eventbrite registration page

Download the programme, directions and list of attendees here: DSLG Delegate Pack.pdf


The creative use of large scale data sources (such as social media, mobile phone data and existing administrative records) offers great potential to local government in terms of understanding and forecasting of urban problems, allocation of scarce resources, innovative policy solutions and efficiency savings. Such methods, which are now often referred to under the heading of “data science”, are already widely deployed within the business sector (to tackle issues such as fraud detection or market segmentation). However their adoption within government remains limited. Barriers in terms of technology, skills and access to data exist; there is also a lack of appreciation of exactly what can be done with this type of data, with a need to exchange ideas, proofs of concept, and best practices.

This day long workshop aims to help stimulate the introduction of data science into local government, through a series of talks from local government practitioners, academics and industry leaders working in the area of data science.


Registration, coffee
Jonathan Bright, Mark Fransham and Richard Norris
Helen Margetts
(Oxford Internet Institute)
Data Science for Government
Coffee break
Panel 1: The Data Science Landscape.

Richard Norris

Tom Symons
The Local Datavores: how councils are using data to make services more efficient, effective and personalised
Nigel Swier
(Office for National Statistics)
Twitter as a novel source of mobility indicators
Tom Smith
Creating a £billion open dataset from administrative data: Data science and the Indices of Deprivation
Panel 2: Open and Social Data Applications.

Mark Fransham

Lucy Knight (Datahatch)
Devon’s Open Data Programme
Yvonne Dittrich
(IT University Copenhagen)
Bringing Big and Open Data into Flexible Decision Processes
James Smith
(Open Data Institute)
Data Infrastructure for Local Government
Coffee break
Panel 3: Business Data for Local Government.

Jonathan Bright

Brian Riordan (Strava)
Strava Metro
Vania Sena (Business and Local Government Data Centre)
Big Data and Local Government: an oxymoron or a marriage made in heaven?
Michael Weedon
(Local Data Company)

Pounding the Streets: Understanding Local People Flow with Street Footfall Sensors


The event is part of the UrbanData2Decide project, which is co-funded under the Joint Programming Initiative Urban Europe.


#StartedinOxford – exploring the incredible innovations from Oxford

By: Philippa Nuttall, Oxford University Innovation

Oxford University is celebrating its spin-outs, start-ups, entrepreneurs that have helped to make Oxford one of the most innovative regions in the UK. University researchers have started over 60 companies since 2005 which is more than any other UK University. This year along, Oxford researchers have started 11 new companies!

Here I have shared some of the brilliant, mind-bending, out-of-this world innovations that Oxford is proud to have supported. To get involved, check out some stories at or take to twitter and share your own!

Autonomous cars? Oxford’s Oxbotica have developed a car that can think for itself – fancy going for a spin?

 Bodle Technologies have developed a paper-thin material that could serve as heat-controlling window glazing, as well as being the future of lightweight, power-saving high-resolution screens. That’s pretty neat.

LIFE is a serious game that can be played on a smartphone or in virtual reality to train healthcare workers to react correctly in emergency situations to save newborn lives. The first project run on Oxford University’s crowdfunding platform, OxReach, LIFE recently won funding from the Saving Lives at Birth challenge.

And last but not least, the tiny device created by Oxford Nanopore that can sequence DNA anywhere, even in space. Check out the Nasa article here:

There are so many more stories worth sharing, so please do check out #StartedinOxford here and get involved! 

This article was previously published on Linkedin on 7th September.

Oxford University Hospitals selected as global digital exemplar

By: Oxford University Hospitals Foundation Trust

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is delighted and privileged to have been selected to be a global digital centre of excellence by the Department of Health.

Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) is one of 12 NHS trusts that will receive up to £10 million, having been designated as a global digital exemplar to champion the use of digital technology to drive radical improvements in the care of patients. The decision was announced on 7 September 2016 by the Secretary of State for Health, the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt.

Peter Knight, OUH Chief Information and Digital Officer, said: “We are delighted and privileged to have been named a global digital exemplar, which recognises that our Trust is at the forefront of the use of digital technology to deliver exceptional care efficiently.

“It also means that our Trust has been identified as one of a small number of trusts selected to lead the way in patient care digitisation using information technology.

“We will use this funding to innovate and improve our use of technology complementing the assets we already have to deliver more effective healthcare for patients. We will act as a trailblazer, sharing our learning with other NHS organisations.

“This funding allows us to accelerate the opportunities that digital technology offers, in line with the ambition of the NHS to be ‘paper-free at the point of care’.”

“Our Trust is already acknowledged to be one of the most advanced NHS trusts for implementing electronic patient records (EPR), with over 1.2 million daily transactions via EPR. We also administer more than 20,000 drugs every day using electronic prescribing and medicines administration, and have recently introduced a new state-of-the-art digital imaging system.”

This article first appeared on the website of OUH NHS Foundation Trust on 7th September 2016.

We need to talk about innovation

By: Dominic Browne, Surveyor magazine

Oxfordshire CC is blazing a trail in future mobility. Its living laboratory approach, emphasis on collaborative procurement, use of intelligence clustering and willingness to push forward with ambitious schemes set it apart from the crowd. 

What is innovation? Sadly, for many it has become little more than the latest buzzword. This is particularly heartbreaking in the engineering sector because at its very core engineering is about problem solving, and so its essential outcome should be innovation. If creativity is coming up with new ideas of value, innovation could be seen as the application of those ideas to realise their value. In the modern world, this can often have more to do with software than spanners, but the essential principle is still the same and stems from finding faults in the present to help redirect the future.

For instance, a new shopping complex called Westgate Oxford is currently being built in Oxford city centre and is due to open in 2017. The county council predicts that by 2021 the shopping centre, along with tourism growth, will result in 5 million more visitors coming to the city every year. The problem is how to match increased urban mobility within a finite road space. Before we look at how Oxfordshire plans to solve this problem, we need to meet Llewelyn Morgan, its service manager for infrastructure, innovation and development, and go back two years.

Mr Morgan explains: ‘About two years ago, within our business plans, we managed to convince our managers we should focus on a new approach to looking at transport. We could see there was big disruption in the market coming along and we were interested in getting involved in smart cities.

‘At the same time, there was a group of innovative business people, who had close ties with the universities. They were local entrepreneurs and wanted to look at Oxford’s transport problems in a different way. They had their own companies; one is Zeta Automotive, another Preston Motorsports. We worked closely with the Transport Studies Unit at Oxford University as well. So we brought a core group together to look at the problem in a different way. We realised that for a city like Oxford to develop solutions, you need to develop that living laboratory approach. We have to get closer to the research because things are going from research to implementation a lot quicker than they ever have. Previously you would be looking at 10 years in the transport world from research to implementation – now you are looking at 18 months to two years.

‘At the time, we were calling it a real-world Lean learning system. That’s what is missing to allow a city to really embrace innovation and do things in a different way.’

One reason this makes such a difference is the importance of intelligence clustering, bringing people together with different areas of expertise to share ideas and complement projects. It is also important in terms of ensuring that major stakeholders engage.

Mr Morgan sums up Oxfordshire’s approach when he says: ‘If you have a good idea in the transport world we will support you to come to Oxford. That’s why you need the connections into the authority as well as the R and D ecosystem in the area.’

This core group transformed into a community interest company (CIC), Mr Morgan explains.

‘We now have MobOx Foundation and set it up as a CIC because we found that the central core, which enables innovative projects to happen, needs to be neutral. So we set it up as a form of social enterprise. Its aim is to support, incubate and develop new ideas and new opportunities, to solve the problem of urban transport.’

MobOx is now in talks with a number of cities around the world on issues such as parking and transport systems solutions, including Buenos Aires and Mexico City.

So what has it achieved? Well, there is a long list but in the first instance this approach of collaborative working has boosted the council’s personnel numbers.

In the council’s research and innovation team there are seven members. This is small in comparison to other groups but, ‘compared to other authorities it is the biggest team I have come across that has this focused on innovation and research,’ Mr Morgan says.

Three of those posts are self-funded, as the team has expanded by winning bids and funding new positions through its collaborative work with private partners.

‘We are looking at developing long-term research. We have two PhD students named as MobOx PhD students and their remit is defined through the group. The idea is that if they develop solutions through the PhD for a commercial proposition, we can develop it so they have an immediate outlet to seek commercial applications and real-world testing.’

This is already bearing fruit in one particularly interesting research project that demonstrates Oxfordshire’s approach in practice.

‘Zeta has paid for one PhD student, and we are working with him and Zeta to develop an off-grid traffic control system. So it is powered off-grid. Also it’s only connected when it needs information, so it reduces some of the hackability.

‘This is a good example of the group. We started with a problem. I asked whether we could do this and Zeta, who are experts in solar energy, came back and said “actually we have most of the bits you need to build a test system”. Now we have the PhD student who can do the research element. The off-grid management system is being developed over the next six to nine months. And hopefully we can apply it in the Culham Science Centre. Culham has 2000 people working there and 10km of road network in an enclosed fenced site. But it’s quite a real-world environment to test transport technology. ‘Previously you almost stopped yourself doing something. But now we think why don’t we just do it. We don’t need government permission.’

Oxfordshire is also open to partnerships with other councils. With a large consortium including Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Hertfordshire county councils and Highways England, Oxfordshire is involved in the oneTRANSPORT project.

Supported by Innovate UK funding, the project aims to create a transport data exchange platform to enable multimodal transport information to be published by data owners such as transport authorities and third parties in a single location to be accessed by app developers and others. The consortium attached to the scheme is led by InterDigital Europe in partnership with Arup.

So in effect you develop a platform that brings in all the various transport data feeds in one place. This means an app developer doesn’t have to talk to every different authority individually about getting their feeds. This could deliver improved travel experiences as well as revenues for local authorities.

Another local project that won Innovate UK funding is CATCH! (Citizens at the City’s Heart) – a journey planning tool being developed by TravelAI.

TravelAI says: ‘CATCH! is a next generation journey planner that adapts to travel conditions in real-time to deliver the most accurate and stress-free routing. It works by analysing the movements of its community of users, building an anonymised dataset that is fed back into the journey planner. The data will also be offered to city planners and transport operators so they can make our transport systems work better and more efficiently for all of us.’

A demonstration version of the app is available and will be ‘most useful for city officials and citizens and transport professionals that would like to see CATCH! developed in their city’.

Mr Morgan tells Surveyor that the oneTRANSPORT project has helped fund ‘one and a half’ jobs at the council and Catch! about half a post.

‘In an ideal world TravelAI will get a feed out of oneTRANSPORT.’ Next there is Oxfordshire’s work with a startup company called Zipabout, which is due to launch a journey assistance app in the autumn. This will beta test an underlying software platform that Zipabout has developed, which gives users personalised travel information, fed from any app they might use. It uses sentiment analysis and overlays it with network data to give real-time information of what’s happening on the network, including proactive warnings. The software aggregates information and works without using your GPS, which would drain your battery. So it could integrate with your calendar and if you have a meeting somewhere, or your usual train is delayed, it can tell you, in advance, which way to travel. It can also team up with local businesses to offer incentives to modal shift, such a free coffee if you take the park and ride.

Daniel Chick, technical director at Zipabout, explains: ‘The approach we are taking is a platform that integrates with other outlets. We are trying to provide an underlying technology platform to help with travel, regardless which app or selection of apps you are using. That’s the general solution. We will trial in Oxford this autumn then hope to disseminate more widely next year.’

Personalisation is for many people the next step in transport and it is no surprise that Mr Chick and his partners have backgrounds in ecommerce, digital engagement and online advertising.

‘A lot of work on personalisation and personal engagement seems to have passed the transport sector by,’ he says. ‘It surprised me that train companies don’t know anything about their passengers; basically they are moving boxes that happen to have people in them.’

The transport sector might break people down into ‘segments’, such as commuter or tourist, whereas Zipabout wants to treat everyone as an individual.

Mr Chick adds that he has also talked to major consultancies and accountants about bringing in money to his business and working to develop innovation in the sector. He was not always impressed with what he saw:

‘One company had a 10-page flow chart for how to do innovation. We innovate by coming up with ideas as we sit around after work having a drink… Big companies will lose their business case [if they don’t adapt].’

He also gives some useful advice to local authorities: ‘Local authorities’ big problem is procurement. When local authorities tender, firstly they tend to specify the work themselves, expect companies to deliver it, and then the council wants to keep all of the intellectual property. That might have worked in the 90s but not now. Our intellectual property is ours. We license our software as a service, if you like. That’s the business model.’

He reiterates the first point: ‘Fundamentally, if a council tells us how to implement something to solve a problem it stops any innovation. Councils are not innovators, they don’t have the technology knowledge.’

This point is echoed by Mr Morgan, who suggests one way for councils to innovate is to go to market with the problem and seek solutions: ‘We are moving towards what is almost a collaborative procurement and trying to make the world move as well. So you are almost committing to a set of objectives. “Here is the budget we will put in, we are expecting you to put in x, y and z but also bring some innovative thinking.” So we end up with the best solution we can and that might include things that are not in the scope right at the beginning. Over a project, the way technology is changing so quickly, a new product might come along that could be applied or a new form of thinking.’

Working together for Oxfordshire: Zipabout promises ‘the future of intelligent mobility’; TravelAI’s CATCH! service; the Culham Science Centre

He gives two examples. One is a project for electric charging in terraced streets where the council is working with Oxford City Council to ask the market to provide solutions to the problem, and will tender based on outcomes. He also references the fact the council is looking for new parking meters but is doing ‘soft market testing’ to find a smarter solution that could let residents know their parking options and possibly provide dynamic pricing.

‘Trying to fit that into traditional procurement is a bit of a challenge. How do we procure in this way? Procurers like to think: “What does a parking metre look like, let’s buy 100 of them”.’

Bidding for funding from the likes of Innovate UK, is variously called ‘a nightmare’ and ‘horrendous’ by Mr Chick, who complains that the system is far too prescriptive, bureaucratic and ends up giving far too much cash to major companies that don’t need such R and D seed funding. It also pays money quarterly in arrears, leaving small start-ups with cash flow difficulties.

Mr Morgan complains there is nowhere to go to bid for both capital and revenue funding at once, with the financial division itself described as a barrier to implementation.

The MobOx group is also working to develop an on-demand system for Oxford University’s internal trips – its many buildings stretch across the city and outside. The idea being that this is a perfect case study to test the market for ondemand transport for trip volumes often larger than a car but usually smaller than a small bus, Mr Morgan says.

There is also a hush-hush project with one of the world’s largest companies on the smart cities theme. All of this is brought together under the Smart Oxford smart cities group. Representatives meet up once a month to discuss new projects and opportunities for joint working.

‘Our ambition with Smart Oxford is we would hope in the next two to three years to have a good number of projects that test our principles and build on each element. So you have the building blocks of the living laboratory there with partners and data platforms. We are just launching our open data platform very soon. That should be next month.’

From better traffic management to travel personalisation and multi-modal platforms, all this work will help with Oxford’s congestion problems. However, we could not leave you with mentioning driverless cars.

Mr Morgan reveals: ‘We are putting together a big bid for the Local Growth Fund that is in partnership with Oxbotica [driverless car experts], RACE (Remote Applications in Challenging Environments) and others. We are bidding for cash to develop autonomous pods in particular, as the last mile of the transport system, including interchanges at Oxford and Culham stations in the first phases. The Oxford one will link up with the new Westgate shopping centre, and then the Culham one will link between Culham and the Culham science park. The extended plan is to also connect to Didcot, to Milton Park, Harwell and around Bicester.

‘The idea is that the bid will develop Culham as its living laboratory element for autonomous vehicles and pods in particular. The pods will be open to the public but they will pay for the service, and we are looking at price structures. How much should it cost? Should it be dynamic pricing? We are also looking at the size of pods and there is also the option of doing freight exchange and using the pods to carry people’s shopping back to stations.’

Oxfordshire began by looking at its problems and developed a better market for solutions. It also found tricky questions like how much to charge for driverless pods and how far to take such autonomous vehicle plans. The moral of the story is that innovation will still leave you with problems, but many of them will be good problems to have. What is innovation? Turning bad problems into good ones.

Working together for Oxfordshire: the Culham Science Centre; the oneTRANSPORT project, and Westgate Development plans continue apace


This article was first published in Surveyor, in August 2016