It's not every day that I get invited to the home of the British Prime Minister, but today was such a day. Intel invited a select group of journalists to 10 Downing Street to witness the official launch of the Intel Collaborative Research Institute (ICRI) for Sustainable Connected Cities.
Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, opened proceedings by highlighting how important technology is to London, and the UK in general. "What we need is a first class research base." remarked Osborne, and with Intel's £45m investment, it looks like he'll be getting exactly that.
Osborne explained that the government has already been investing heavily in growing technological innovation, with the Tech City cluster in East London attracting some of the biggest names in the industry, as well as an ever-growing number of tech start-ups. Osborne sees the ICRI as a major building block for "ensuring that the UK becomes the technology centre for Europe".
As its name suggests though, the ICRI isn't all about Intel - this is a collaborative project with two of the most respected technology universities in the world, Imperial College London and University College London. By combining the knowledge of Intel's engineers and scientists, with some of the greatest scientific minds in British academia, one can't help but be excited by what the ICRI could achieve.
Intel CTO and Director of Intel Labs, Justin Rattner was on hand to explain why Intel chose London as the location for a research centre focussed primarily on the future of cities. London boasts the largest GDP for any city in Europe, and has a population that speaks 300 languages and spans 200 ethnic communities - "London is a microcosm of the world" commented Rattner.
He's not wrong of course. London is as cosmopolitan as it gets, and the city's ability to function so efficiently despite its diverse population demographic is nothing short of a miracle. Because of this, London is the ideal Petri dish for the study of cities - "We're going to turn your fair city into a laboratory" exclaimed Rattner, with a smile.
With most of the world's population living in cities, sustainability isn't just check box, it's an absolute necessity - "Without sustainability, we're in real trouble" said Rattner. But sustainability has to be something that the population welcome, so the ICRI needs to collate all the information it can about London's millions of residents, in order to find out how people want to live in their city.
Obviously collecting that data requires sensory equipment, but Rattner pointed out that pretty much everyone in a city is already carrying a sensor that logs almost everything they do - their smartphone. In essence, he's right. The level of personal data that could be gleaned every day via the use of our phones would be invaluable. The question is whether we'd be willing to allow the ICRI access to that personal data, no matter how noble their intentions.
That said, there's already so much data collated about us and the city we live in, that there should be more than enough for the ICRI to work with. Rattner also pointed out that the forthcoming Olympic games in London will act as the perfect acid test for the research centre. With a huge influx of people into the city, the games will give the ICRI invaluable data regarding population scaling in an already densely populated urban metropolis.
The ICRI will initially employ around a dozen researchers, from Intel, ICL and UCL, but it will also reach out to urban communities in the Capital, in order to gain a greater understanding of how citizens want and need their city to evolve and develop.
The signing of the ICRI document was witnessed by George Osborne.
The concept of smart cities isn't new, and we've been hearing about self-aware urban areas for many years, but so far we haven't seen too much in the way of implementation. What's interesting about this approach is that it incorporates what Rattner referred to as a quad-helix integration - the collaboration of industry, government, academia and the public - which will hopefully mean that whatever plans are put in place, will prove positive for all four sectors.
Intel wouldn't give definite timescales on when we can expect to see results or the implementation of strategies developed at the ICRI, but a ballpark figure of five years was mentioned at the event.
There's no doubt that the ICRI is a very interesting concept and heralds the welcome return of an Intel research lab to the UK. I'm looking forward to visiting the facility and talking to the researchers, so check back soon for further insight into Intel's latest research centre.