Could local digital research result in our fridges ordering milk?

The Technology Strategy Board (TSB), the UK’s national innovation agency, has awarded one of ten pots of £50k research funding to a project at the University, in a Government-backed initiative which looks at the ‘Internet of Things’.

Listen to researcher Rachid Hourizi speak about this research on BBC Radio Bristol.

The ‘Internet of Things’ is a concept which describes an imagined future where nearly every object we use in our everyday lives is embedded with a chip that can store data and interact with networks.

The ability for ‘things’ to retain data has infinite applications, from tracking frozen food between farm and fork to ensure it hasn’t thawed and been refrozen or become contaminated in any way, through to creating intelligent appliance monitoring that could allow your fridge to ‘recognise’ that the milk is running out and automatically order more.

The funding has been secured by a collaborative team including Silicon South West, the organisation responsible for promoting the region’s electronics sector, with wireless technologies network Cambridge Wireless. Academic expertise will be provided by Dr Eamonn O'Neill and Dr Rachid Hourizi, researchers in the Department of Computer Science.

Could we soon be using fridges that can order our milk for us?

Could we soon be using fridges that can order our milk for us?

Dr O’Neill said: “During this project we will be exploring the trend for environments, buildings, vehicles, clothing, portable devices and other objects to have more and more information associated with them, and the ability to sense, communicate, network and produce new information.

“While there are plenty of fun applications for this type of technology, the focus of this project will be on how it can be applied to help us manage difficult scenarios, such as extreme weather conditions.

“For example, we will be looking at how the whole infrastructure can share data automatically to better manage crisis situations. Situations such as the extreme heatwave experienced in France in 2003, which resulted in 11,000 deaths, could be avoided if data from the energy grid is automatically shared with emergency and social services, families and friends.

“We’ll be exploring these scenarios, and looking to identify any bottlenecks and possible stresses and strains that would prevent the system from working. This will include a lot of work to identify and address personal security and data sharing issues, a key concern with this type of technology.”

The TSB funding initially covers preparatory feasibility studies for the creation of an ecosystem of applications and services, with further funding to a value of £4m being invested through a national funding competition later in 2012 that will lead to the demonstration of the benefits to be gained by merging applications and services together.

Simon Bond, CEO and Founder of Silicon South West and Director of the University's Innovation Centre said: “Receiving this funding demonstrates a confidence in Bath’s digital research at a national level. We’re entering an exciting time as a city, with digital industries and academia coming together in the first Bath Digital Festival in March. Events like this help to put the city on the map for its digital expertise and being involved in major national projects such as the Internet of Things is testament to the high-quality research taking place here.”

David Bott, Director of Innovation Programmes at TSB, said: “The Internet of Things has the potential to stimulate large scale investment, create jobs and bring substantial economic growth. The number of connected objects is estimated to reach 50 billion by 2020, and the potential added value of services using the Internet of Things is likely to be in the range of hundreds of billions of pounds a year, with new business models, applications and services across different sectors of the economy.”

The feasibility studies will start immediately, and take place throughout the first half of 2012. Research will be carried out at the University, supported by expertise from Silicon South West and Cambridge Wireless.

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