FutureEverything's Innovation Lab: how can the Internet of Things help improve air quality and our health?

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FutureEverything- Project SimplifAI, innovation lab: how can Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things help improve air quality?

On Thursday 7th July, MSP customer, FutureEverything, held its Air Quality Innovation lab ‘SimplfiAI’ at Citylabs 1.0. Throughout a series of seminars and workshops, the project brought together around 50 different innovators and leading thinkers from the private and public sphere, all with the aim of finding solutions and responses to current challenges posed by poor air quality for transport users, urban residents and city agencies.

Project SimplifAI looks at applying forms of Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things technologies to manage road congestion, thereby reducing harmful transport emissions that contribute to poor air quality. Keith McCabe, internationally renowned innovative thinker and Managing Director at KAM Futures, spoke about the project's ambitions to control real world emissions and subsequently reduce the detrimental effects they have on our health, noting that poor air quality shortens the average life span in the UK by 6 months. Although a sufficiently complex problem, this vision is becoming more and more achievable with the rise of Smart Cities, and in particular, Manchester’s groundbreaking CityVerve project which is the UK’s Internet of Things City Demonstrator being deployed within Corridor Manchester and HQ’d at MSP’s central campus.

The morning saw a series of talks given by speakers from various backgrounds, ranging from researchers to policy makers from across Manchester and the UK. Matthew O’Neill, the Air Quality Manager at Transport For Greater Manchester (TFGM) explained that currently, poor air quality is responsible for 3.5 million deaths per year, with vehicle exhaust fumes alone leading to asthma, lung cancer and heart disease. One of the greatest challenges at the moment is the production of Nitrogen Oxide from diesel engines, however, since diesel has lower tax rates, efforts to cut pollution are undermined. Even though Manchester has the largest number of hybrid buses outside of London, O’Neill explained there is still a huge amount of scope to improve city policy and air quality strategy for the city.

We also heard from Alistair Duke, Principal Researcher at multinational communication giant, BT. Alistair spoke more in depth about how an Internet of Things ecosystem in cities can provide a momentous opportunity to improve air quality and our health. By connecting sensors and devices around the city to applications that can interpret the data, we are creating a huge economically viable solution to managing road congestion, air pollution levels, the environment and helping citizens go about their day in a better, healthier way. Manchester’s huge CityVerve project will allow us to take ideas of Smart Cities to the next level by doing more with the resources available to us, and by letting us utilise data in real time.

FutureEverything’s SimplifAI workshop finished by asking people to get into groups to work on identifying future trends and the possible frictions between tech, infrastructure and people. The conclusions that were drawn all had a common theme - that there needed to be a larger focus on the analysing and sensemaking of data before establishing practical solutions. In doing so, each group identified human behaviour and attitudes as a barrier to acceptance, and the need to inspire solutions that can improve air quality without damaging the economy.

FutureEverything’s Innovation lab gave great insight into how collaboration between researchers, innovators and Smart City experts can really inspire solutions that shape city policy, transport and air quality strategy in Greater Manchester and beyond. The ideas that were put forward throughout the day will be used by Transport for Greater Manchester to help manage air pollution and improve the health of its citizens. As the UK’s leading centre for digital health, it is great for Citylabs 1.0 to be home to such important national initiatives and collaboration between different communities.