£24m competition could turn Milton Keynes into city that thinks for itself

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MILTON Keynes could become a city that thinks for itself – a place where solar powered dishwashers switch on when the sun comes out.

That’s the dream of Milton Keynes Council and University College MK (UCMK) that have won through to the second round of a competition to win £24 million funding for the smart city initiative.

Professor Keith Straughan, Dean of UCMK, said: “We could have a system whereby you tell your dish washer to switch itself on when the sun is shining and the electricity isn’t costing you anything. The technology bit is challenging but the even bigger challenge is designing the smart city to be effective and acceptable for its citizens and businesses.

“Part of the challenge is to reduce the complexity to make the new smart systems simple enough that people are happy to use them and getting them on board with the wider concept – that they’re saving money individually and collectively, that what they’re doing is sustainable but most importantly that they want to do it and can see the potential pay-back in terms of convenience or lower costs.”

Now the people behind the scheme have until November to put in their final bid. The winner of the £24 million fund will be announced in January next year. The overall winner will become a demonstrator city and show how they will “integrate their transport, communications and other infrastructure to improve the local economy, increase quality of life and reduce impact on the environment.”

Milton Keynes is one of 30 cities and boroughs across Britain to be given £50,000 from the government-backed Technology Strategy Board to carry out a feasibility study into their plans.

Deputy leader of Milton Keynes Council, Councillor David Hopkins said “The project offers the potential for the council working with business to test new and innovative solutions for connecting and integrating individual city ‘systems’, and will allow us to explore new approaches to delivering a sustainable and ever-developing local economy together with excellent quality of life, while at the same time reducing the environmental footprint and increasing resilience to what seems to be an inevitable period of environmental challenge.”

A smart city is one where technology and infrastructure support the needs of growing urban populations to make sure cities run as smoothly and sustainably as possible. If successful, the scheme would attempt to integrate everything in the city from transport and waste disposal to power generation, healthcare, use of renewables and communication for maximum efficiency and minimum environmental impact.

Milton Keynes is already a pioneering city for electric cars and the council, in partnership with Eon, has 75 experimental homes that use smart technology. In some, householders can switch on their central heating system for certain rooms from their iPad, so they can, for instance, heat their home just as they are leaving work.

Next year, electric buses should be introduced to Milton Keynes alongside a scheme to provide smart journey planning via mobile phones.

Professor Straughan added: “The University is delighted to be an integral part of this project which we will support through the research of our Smart Cities Institute (part of the University of Bedfordshire) created together with Milton Keynes Council. We are looking at how cities can become self-aware and react instantly and imaginatively to internal and external influences.”

Iain Gray, chief executive of the Technology Strategy Board, said: “We planned originally to fund 20 feasibility studies but because of the number of high quality initial proposals received from councils across the whole country we decided to increase the funding available so that 30 studies could be carried out. The results will be made public and we look forward to seeing some exciting future city demonstrator proposals.”