As part of this year’s exciting range of tech and innovation events as part of Venturefest 2017 delivered by Invest Bristol & Bath, BathCamp – the Bath-based meetup for people interested in interesting techie things -held its first event of a series concentrating on and around smart city technology.

“People will tell a lamp post how they feel about the city more than they will tell the council”

 

The event showcased local innovators that are making a huge difference with their smart city and urban living projects.

Beer and knowledge shared: BathCamp-ers settle in before
the start of the evening’s talks

 

From talking lamp posts to using data to persuade councils to make positive changes to community spaces – a solid 50 enthusiasts showed up to hear what’s been going down in Bristol and Bath from four fantastic speakers.

Connecting communities

leigh-dodds-bathcamp-feb2017One of the biggest themes that came up in the series of talks was the power of open data, with Bath:Hacked‘s Cofounder Leigh Dodds (pictured right) kicking things off by sharing some of the key projects that have been created out of the meetup that uses local open data to do good.

Leigh highlighted the smart cities movement across big cities and explored some of the challenges of translating their big successes into smaller cities and towns within the UK. He explained that, when it comes to smaller cities, it’s the importance of having the local community, as well as the tech community, on board.

“It’s not about complicated algorithms, it’s about opening up information between everyone”

 

Keeping things small but with a big local impact, Leigh told the audience about some of the projects the group has worked on, including making car parking data live, connecting with local schools to help them improve their energy efficiency and working with local stroke survivors to create a map of ‘Accessible Bath‘ to help those with disabilities better explore the city.

Aside from the suggestion that we build bat caves for mayors so they can see everything that’s going on, he told the audience: “It’s not about complicated algorithms, it’s about opening up information between everyone… and small measured projects that can stay around for a long time.”

Strava insights

bath-hacked-strava-insights-bathNext up was a brief talk from on one of the more complex projects stemming from fellow Bath:Hacked organiser Mark Owen – on ‘Cycling Insights using Strava Metro’.

In a great story of perseverance, the team behind this project managed to get hold of a year worth of data from the Strava app – used by thousands of cyclists to track their rides around Bath and beyond.

After sifting through masses of data and plucking out the more questionable aspects (a cyclist riding at 80mph I hear you say?!) the project eventually presented the data in such a way that enabled local cyclists and the local community to interact with it in ways they’d never been able to before (pictured left) – highlighting areas prone to long waits and congestion, as well as the likely number and types of cyclists in the city on given days.

Ultimately this led to the local council being able to really see where they needed to throw its cash, in terms of improving cycle ways and services for the increasing number of cyclists in and around the city. You can check out the Strava tool on the Bath:Hacked website.

Liveable cities

In a short but sweet next stop, the Bath happy campers were treated Adam Reynolds’ city of Bath ‘living heart’ transport plan that sees the future of our cities prioritising pedestrians.

Again using data of roads in Bath commonly used as ‘rat runs’ through the city centre, Adam told the audience how important it was to consult the community in any attempt to change the behaviour of drivers and assessing areas that could potentially become toll zones or even completely pedestrianised.

Talking lamp posts

playable-citiesIn the final hour, Clare Reddington came on stage to share her experience running the much loved Playable Cities project.

Clare told the audience her initial frustration with the wide perception of ‘smart cities’ as being ‘easy’ or ‘frictionless’. But added: “It’s better to be for something than against something”.

The Playable Cities project, which is all about how citizens interact with their cities and reconfiguring what’s already there, has had a huge impact in Bristol and, as it has grown, across the world as far as Tokyo too.

The project’s first project – ‘Hello Lamp Post‘ (pictured right) allowed citizens to ‘talk’ to inanimate street furniture using their mobile phones, tell it stories and get in touch with their playful sides.

Clare told the audience: “People will tell a lamp post how they feel about the city more than they will tell the council… this threads real conversations across the city.”

And with the best piece of feedback Clare had back from a Playable City project was that it turned a ‘mugging area’ into one that people came to play, shows that sometimes it’s the simplest of tech that can make a city truly smart.

Find out more about BathCamp and sign up to the next meetup for free on the BathCamp meetup page. You can also follow them on Twitter here: @bathcamp.

Alice Whale