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Live Labs Blog: the final view from A Smarter Suffolk

Suffolk’s Richard Webster provides the final blog from one of our Live Labs that found itself innovating beyond local highways.

Just over three years ago Suffolk embarked on their Smarter Suffolk Live Labs following submission of the bid and facing a daunting Dragon’s Den pitch to outline the proposed trials.

It was always the intention that the trials would be research based and sharing the data both nationally and internationally was a key point, supported by key partners from academia and business.

The trials were mainly highways based, looking at street lighting central management systems, adaptive lighting, monitoring of road surface temperature, air quality, gully monitoring, waste / grit bins, and even adult and social care trials. The latter was to see whether technology could assist vulnerable people maintain their independence. To support all of this data, a bespoke dashboard was created by BT to ingest all of the data into one place to enable data insights to be made.

There have been many positive outcomes from the project. As an example, the adaptive lighting has been a very good success that has seen energy savings increase by a further 40% on top of savings experienced through converting conventional lanterns to LED technology. This trial focused on the use of radars and more recently, as the project progressed, the use of existing traffic loop detectors to brighten and lower lighting levels according to road use. 

The trials have worked well, and large volumes of data is being received. The challenge is how this data can be used to provide operational efficiencies. 

A number of business cases have been developed, working with the University of Suffolk, that detail the methodologies deployed and outcomes of the trials. These have now been uploaded to a Knowledge Share Platform that Suffolk produced through another key partner, the British Standards Institute. An innovative portfolio builder was developed with Proving Services enabling local authorities to identify any assets that could potentially be monetised, and generate income. Individual Live Labs business cases from across the whole programme provide details of each trial that can be followed by any authority pursuing similar initiatives.

In the last three years, the world has seen much disruption that has affected procurement, material delivery times and seen rising costs. Energy price rises have had an impact, with increases of up to 70%. 

Public feedback from one of the trials using solar and wind to power streetlights has been excellent and although currently cost prohibitive, further trials will be taking place using solar technology over the next 12 months. 

In addition, the use of camera technology is being developed to further adapt street lighting levels where it may be possible to provide lighting according to the road user type, such as lighting to a very low level until pedestrians are detected and then automatically brightening the lights accordingly. The University of Suffolk will be working further on this project for the next 15 months looking at required lighting levels, safety of road users and quantifiable benefits that can be realised.

There are a few things that we would do differently should we be fortunate to secure additional funding. The project had a very wide scope and buy-in can sometimes be difficult when the technology challenges current ways of working. Having individual operational leads take more of a leadership role would help to understand the benefits of the trials and where, operationally, services can benefit.

One piece of advice we would give to others considering a similar project is to focus on procurement at an early stage and develop terms and conditions that meets the needs of suppliers and the local authority. Putting these in place meant all parties were aware of their requirements and procurement went very smoothly.

We would be excited to be part of Live Labs 2 if we put forward a successful proposal. It has been a fantastic journey and one we would recommend. 

If we had to sum it up in one word, I would refer to the adaptive lighting and say……illuminating!

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