Special Feature: WM Smart City Region
"In 2021 DCMS highlighted the West Midlands as having the country’s fastest-growing tech sector … The West Midlands Smart City Region Programme will scale-up digital opportunities across the region in health tech, future mobility and smart energy. It will drive new digital start-ups through practical business support and a supply of patient venture capital to attract global innovators. And it will deliver digital catch-up programmes so that everyone in the region can gain the skills and confidence to access the opportunities this will bring." - From the Levelling Up White Paper (Page 237)
The Covid pandemic has placed an unprecedented burden on public services – widening pre-existing disparities between communities and stifling the West Midlands’ economic growth.
Waiting times for life-critical diagnoses have been at an all-time high, with an aging population and growth in chronic illness. The shift to increased public transport has waned through nervousness around exposure to Covid, causing increased congestion and pollution. The energy market has become vulnerable to price fluctuations and supply resilience, at the same time as the region strives to become net zero by 2041.
We want to catapult the West Midlands onto the global stage as a demonstrator region for radical ‘smart’ technology that genuinely meets the needs of its communities – levelling up access to services and life-enhancing opportunities. At the same time, we want to drive efficiencies in service delivery to reduce the burden on the public purse, as well as catalysing new business opportunities and economic growth.
Progress So Far…
The West Midlands is already the UK’s largest testing ground for 5G deployment and technological innovation, which has led to huge advances in transport, health, and manufacturing.
Fourteen Transport Innovation Projects are being developed to support the regional transport network:
- On-board sensors will be able to scan for kerbside and built environment challenges for public transport and predict tram-track maintenance issues;
- Personal applications will enhance the passenger experience through enhanced capacity management and improving accessibility for the visually impaired.
The 5G test-bed has also started to provide direct support to regional businesses to ensure they have the capability to maximise the opportunities from 5G. Its Technical Mentoring Programme provides financial support for business development and a Vodaphone-powered test-bed to trial new products.
A ‘Smart’ approach will thoroughly and effectively connect multiple service delivery channels - using sensors, data, and connectivity to optimise, and then transform, supply and demand. This will be achieved through six approaches:
Smart Road and Rail Services
Installing connected sensors to the road and rail infrastructure to improve performance and flow, reduce congestion and pollution, and enable predictive maintenance programmes.
Passenger-focused, these approaches will enhance the customer experience and improve accessibility, establishing ‘data highways’ for real-time information and better-informed long-term infrastructure planning.
Smart Health and Social Care
Providing a network of sensors in care homes to enable remote monitoring and the deployment of 5G technology to underpin remote health diagnosis – a pillar of the Government’s new approach to accessible health care.
Alongside this, establishing a demonstrator ‘Smart Hospital’ enabled with 5G digital and data technology, and an in-work employee programme to boost workplace wellbeing and productivity.
Smart Energy Simulator
Creating a digital twin to maximise the outputs of pioneering West Midlands’ Energy Capital work in real-time energy planning and predictive planning.
Regional Fibre Backbone
Using existing infrastructure assets and sensor network deployment opportunities to roll out full-fibre broadband to disadvantaged communities.
Data Store and Exchange
Collating and enriching data generated through the sensors and applications for long-term service, place and infrastructure planning, with potential commercialisation opportunities.
Sketch to Scale Programme
Building on WM5G’s 5PRING innovation programme, providing comprehensive support to tech companies to maximise the opportunities offered from the Smart City Region initiative.
What We Hope to Achieve
- Reduction in congestion and emissions and increased reliability and use of public transport;
- Reduction in cancer and diabetes deaths; reduce avoidable referrals by 10%; capacity savings estimated at £60 million pa;
- 25% savings through demand optimisation and reduce systems costs by £60 million pa, in turn reducing fuel poverty;
- Provide broadband to 14,000 businesses, reduce digital poverty, and increase GVA by 1%-2%;
- Enriched data for more efficient service and infrastructure planning;
- New business creation, enhanced inward investment attraction, and increased GVA and skills levels;
- Catalyse £66 million of private sector investment (return of 1.5x on an initial public sector investment of £45 million).