Situated on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal, it is one of the most famous regeneration projects in the UK thanks to its daily exposure on national morning television but for Stephen Wild, Managing Director of MediaCityUK, it has always been the aim that it should be more than just a collection of polished buildings and instead be a place of innovation and creativity.
It’s this visionary culture and ‘anything is possible’ attitude which runs within the fabric of MediaCityUK that led to Stephen to work with UP Ventures on the Greater Manchester Future of Health programme in 2019 and on a testbed in January this year which brought six Internet of Things (IoT) companies along with the Connected Place Catapult to Salford to test out cutting-edge technology around the estate and in the surrounding area.
Stephen, who has been with MediaCityUK since construction began in 2008, said that a partnership approach was key to the future development of the site and that key stakeholders, including BBC, ITV and Salford Council, were aware of new initiatives, such as the four-month UP Ventures testbed, and able to feed into the process.
He said: "It was always the intention that MediaCityUK would not just be a property development and that it would be a place of innovation and creativity.
"The testbed has provided real life proof of what can be achieved with IoT technology and has shown that MediaCityUK is a place where you can trial new technology.
"I'm excited about the testbed companies that have come through the programme and what they might be able to do in and around MediaCityUK in terms of helping people to live, work and play.”
The six companies taking part in the Smart City Innovation Testbed are:
Atmo Technology : an air quality data company that uses IoT devices and advanced algorithms to help employers monitor the pollution levels that their staff are exposed to.
Cyber Defence Services : an IoT security platform OvertAI which monitors devices connected to the network and detects threats.
Hello Lamp Post has created a novel way for people to tell town planners how they think their built environment can be improved with the company now allowing people to converse with street furniture in over 25 countries around the world.
Secure Sensor Innovative Design have built an IoT system that allows organisations such as care homes and housing associations to monitor homes to enable people to live in their own homes for longer.
R-Com has developed a comprehensive Smart City solution with a suite of sensors that can count passengers on public transport, measure air quality and monitor vehicles on roads with the firm also providing real time analysis and IT support.
Pulse Systems have built an IoT platform on top of UK made and designed sensors that help businesses make a building ‘smart’ allowing for better understanding of workspaces and how they affect people and the environment.
Stephen said that he had been impressed by the quality of testbed companies and that MediaCityUK was keen to pilot solutions with some of the participants including Secure Sensor Innovative Design's Safehouse technology.
He said: "We have a focus on late living and last time buyer opportunities and MediaCityUK is looking to provide accommodation to people in this market.
"This is a very vibrant market and Safehouse, by allowing people to live on their own successfully, can help us be part of this sector."
The ability to connect the public to the built environment is a key ambition for MediaCityUK and the solution provided by Hello Lamp Post, which allows people to learn about the past of a location and give feedback on its future was one that appealed to Stephen.
He said: "The connection with people and place is important in creating the type of environment people want to be in.
"We did a piece of stakeholder engagement 18 months ago and there was a desire for people to understand and connect more with its history and heritage of the area.
"Hello Lamp Post can work with us to create this connection."
IoT technology can equip urban centres with the ability to test and track changes they make to improve their environment and the ability of R-Com to provide an evidence base has also appealed to MediaCityUK.
Stephen said: "R-Com's technology will use the ability to understand our environment through air quality monitoring and sensors around MediaCityUK.
"It will give us real, proper evidence of what is happening here and the ability to build a plan to monitor and improve that."
As the number of IoT devices in operation across MediaCityUK grows so will the volume of data produced which Stephen says which will enable better decisions to be made.
He said: "The more data that we have on how people are using MediaCityUK, the more we can improve how services operate and are deployed.
"If we can create a fully integrated transport system that looks at all modes of transport rather than individually it could tell people when the next tram will be, where the cycling routes are or where they can get an E-scooter from.
"If we can create a system that is aligned with people's needs then it makes the transport system more usable and more likely that people will use cars less."
The testbed has also helped MediaCityUK prepare for the changes to our working patterns that have been brought on by Coronavirus with more people set to adopt a hybrid-approach to office and home working.
He said: "The current times we are in will lead to a range of changes.
"We are seeing a different approach to the workplace and we need to understand the design, utilisation and footfall flow into our offices.
"We are starting to see agile working coming through and we need to understand this and what services our client companies will need.
"Through exercises, like the one we are carrying out with UP Ventures, we respond to real life challenges and look to trial and testbed a solution."
UP Ventures is exploring future iterations of the current testbed that will help MediaCityUK progress its smart city ambitions and meet future challenges.
Steven Thomas, Managing Partner of UP Ventures said: “Our Smart City project with MediaCityUK is a great example of how our innovation programmes and testbeds help corporates and governments tackle real-world problems. Through meaningful collaboration with tech-scaleups, our programmes give established organisations access to emerging technology and the talent behind it that help solve specific challenges. There is also the opportunity to develop the skills of in-house teams who want to innovate better”
For more information on becoming involved in an UP Ventures programme, email our managing partner Steven Thomas.