Posts Tagged ‘Guardian’


Internet of Things Tech Meetup 6 #iotlondon

April 4, 2012
by Claire Thorne

Wednesday 28 March 2012, Crayon London

By Koen van Dam and Claire Thorne

The “Internet of Things”, the vision of a world where physical objects are connected and part of a world-wide information network, has been a buzzword for more than a decade now. With the widespread use of smart phones, the availability of cheap sensors and microcontrollers and the rise of data sharing platforms such as Pachube (pronounced as “patch bay”), groups of enthusiastic people are working on making this idea come true and developing business plans taking advantage of the recent momentum.

In cities around the world people are gathering at monthly “IoT Tech Meetups”: informal, evening discussion groups with speakers presenting their work/ideas/businesses. And there’s free beer. The IoT Tech Meetups are founded by Ed Borden (Pachube, Chief Business Development Officer) and Alex Deschamps-Sonsino (who also was a panellist at one of Digital Economy Lab’s Guardian Tech City debates). The meetings are held in different – interactive and interesting – venues each time, courtesy of space sponsors. We joined the 6th meetup in London at Crayon in Oxford Circus.

Tech Meetup attendees seem to range from the techy enthusiast who tinkers with sensors in their spare time, to the d-i-y app developer and the business-savvy start-up sponsor. Everyone there was genuinely passionate about ‘big data’ and ‘building things’.

The evening started with a brief introduction of the Air Quality Egg – a new project to set up a community-based sensor network for local air quality. They are currently raising money online to implement it via kickstarter. In the first of three talks the “mbed-based gateway” (slides) was presented, which kindled a discussion on what we need first: applications and sensors, or gateways which collects data from (wireless) sensors and allows for them to be connected to the Internet. Without gateways sensors are not part of the IoT, but without sensors and attractive applications people will not purchase a gateway…

The second talk addressed open telematics and introduced the E:drive app (slides and Beta registration) taking advantage of data which is collected under the bonnet of all modern cars. This could be used for personal journey data collection and in visualisation apps, showing fuel economy management with a social, competitive personal ‘rating’. Potential applications include total energy use/management (car and household), smart roads, car sharing schemes, real-time traffic flow monitoring, and police investigations into car crime.

The last talk of the evening was about Data Citizen Driven City and the work of MediaLab in Madrid. For example, some of their six research projects focus on data visualisation (see their façade project) and engaging citizens in data capture (see their City Sense competition entry). They have a strong focus on documenting every step and making this publicly available and acting as a mediation hub bringing people with the same interests together. Also, they have ongoing open calls for collaboration.

Digital City Exchange touches on several aspects of the Internet of Things, including challenges and opportunities of dealing with dynamic and distributed sensors, access to data and making it available to others, and finally the development of applications and services on top of such data.

We’re certainly keen to participare in future sessions. Note that the IoT Meetups are usually booked up well in advance – before all speakers or even the venue have been confirmed! Another clear sign that this is not just a series of presentations but a community of people who share a common vision and want to make things happen.

Watch this space…




IP and Copyright in the Digital Economy

November 2, 2011
by Andrew Fletcher

Our future digital economy: Creative ownership in a post-scarcity world

19:00 – 20:00, 31 October 2011, Imperial College Business School

Blog by Sherry Morris and Andrew Fletcher

The third Tech City Talk, hosted by Imperial College Business School and the Guardian’s Tech Weekly team focused on intellectual property and copyright, building on the Hargreaves review commissioned by the Government – ‘Digital Opportunity’.

Introduced as part of an administration that was somewhat unique in having had a technology agenda from the get-go, Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, empathized with the need to balance protecting content creators, whilst also enabling innovators, since it was embodied within his role. He felt that the Hargreaves review had got the balance right in that regard

Feargal Sharkey, CEO of UK Music, felt that the economic opportunity highlighted by the Hargreaves review had been vastly over-estimated, and that the growth opportunities could not be justified. He did agree, though, that clearer laws were needed to ensure investors that they will receive something of clear value for their financial contribution and that these laws should provide the certainty they need to invest. Professor Tom Hoehn, Director of the Intellectual Property Research Centre at Imperial College Business School also highlighted the mis-measurement of the creative economy, but instead picked out evidence that it was vastly underestimated and therefore welcomed the opportunity to think about new business models more deeply to explore how even more value could be derived from the outputs of the creative industries. He pointed out how Imperial College currently does research in related areas through the Open Platform and the Digital City Exchange.

When asked about the shortcomings of the current laws Professor Ian Hargreaves, Chair of Digital Economy at the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, was quick to point out that the UK has the most successful creative industries sector in the European time zone, but it could be even more successful with the internet playing a huge role. He felt the questions to ask are: Why haven’t these digital industries done better? and How can we make them work better? His recommendations set out to answer these questions. The Hargreaves report notes that the UK has taken a cautious approach to intellectual property and needs to do more to support this ‘powerhouse sector.’

Following a question about the need to create ‘zones of certainty,’ Ed Vaizey agreed that it was the proper role of government to put these in place. There is nothing wrong in an era of digital disruption in re-examining the IP laws in order for companies emerging from this disruption to invest in IP. However, it is not Government’s job to protect old business models. Tom pointed out that in 1990 Microsoft had three patents, whereas now it has over 10,000. It has now completely changed its business model and how it protects its IP and the same thing will need to happen in the content industries

For Jeff Lynn, Chairman of Coadec, where UK copyright has gone wrong is that it is being applied to things it was never meant to apply to, for example in the areas of data and text mining. If these laws block innovation rather than enhance it, he feels they need to be reviewed – as he puts it, just because IP isn’t everything doesn’t mean it isn’t something. Copyright is supposed to be about encouraging learning and innovation. When copyright is stopping that, then something needs to be done. He cited the example of large record companies fighting hard against innovation in the past because its business model was being disrupted, the results of which had still left scars in the tech community. Ian agreed that from an economic perspective there is a need to be wary of unintended consequences, otherwise people will find themselves in a place where they are held back because copyright is uncertain. Jeff went on to point out that there is very little difference in temperament between the tech entrepreneurs in silicon roundabout and the content creators: they both share a passion for what they do. Feargal agreed that there was a consensus for content creators, technologists, ISPs and others to work together and that we should move on and collaborate together to drive things forward.

The discussion moved beyond copyright to other areas where value isn’t being retained, particularly through talent. Ed Vaizey welcomed Tech City in this regard as a great way of sending out the signal that Britain is interested in tech start-ups and that the UK in general, and London in particular, is seen by the rest of the world as a ‘tech hub.’ Protection beyond copyright was discussed – Google admit that IP protects their business and if the ambition/goal is to build the next Google or Facebook then an IP regime suitable for software that allows these businesses to thrive is needed. Jeff cautioned that for many entrepreneurs, concerns about protecting IP are low on the list. He stressed the important difference between understanding the importance of protecting IP and then articulating what IP laws should look like.

The panel was asked how best to ‘future-proof’ these laws so that this issue does not have to be re-visited each time there is a new development. Feargal felt in general the amount of money ‘promised’ to the UK by relaxing or renegotiating the rules was a gross overstatement and was seriously doubted by those closely involved in revamping the system. He also linked this to other EU countries which provide compensation for the copying of works, and that the UK was one of only two countries in EU that didn’t do this. The panel agreed with Ian when he said that getting the data infrastructure right was actually more important that the intellectual property issue.

When asked how databases can work internationally and how illegal sites should be addressed, Ian pointed out that no one has yet managed to put together interoperable databases that are as easy for content creators to access as Hollywood studios. However, this gives an opportunity to negotiate the rules about how this works and to define a lawful way for people to operate which could spread. The Digital Copyright Exchange offers opportunity for content creators to ‘not be on their own’ when seeking recompense. Ultimately, we need a world where consumers are not confused as hell about all of this.

The final talk in the series is currently being scheduled. For more information and to register:

You can listen to the podcast of this week’s event here.




Creating Tech City

October 26, 2011
by Andrew Fletcher

Our Future Digital Economy: If You Build It, Will They Come?

18:30-19:30, 24th October 2011, Imperial College Business School

Blog by Sherry Morris and Andrew Fletcher

The second of four Tech City Talks, hosted by Imperial College Business School and the Guardian’s Tech Weekly team focused on whether Government intervention in Tech City / Silicon Roundabout have been beneficial, and how it fits with other clusters and interventions.

Asked if Tech City was simply a brand to attract investment or whether the Government wants to invest in companies on the ground, Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities and local government, made it clear direct government investment in companies would be the ‘kiss of death.’ He wants to see Tech City as a means for cities to join up globally.

He summarised one approach being used to support the development of clusters: enterprise zones. By using key interventions such as tax incentives, access to superfast broadband and local development orders, start up companies can get the push they need to develop and grow. The development orders being key to prevent the zones simply being used by companies to transfer existing jobs around the country. When asked to define what Tech City is, he pointed to three of four thriving sites around London where ‘techies’ and start-up companies can gather and feed off each other to develop new products, ideas and services.

Alex Deschamps-Sonsino, founder and CEO of Designswarm and co-founder of Tinker London and part of the Really Interesting Group, picked out other factors that led to the rise of Tech City, with the single biggest factor aiding growth being the expansion of the East London line. She also stressed the importance of small companies co-existing with large companies and providing support to help them develop. But the support needed in a company of 1-10 employees is radically different from that needed for 100 employees, even though both are classed as SMEs. She wants specific, targeted support for these ‘micro-companies’, so they, too, can get off the ground and grow, rather than be left to struggle along on their own.

Eric Van Der Kleij, CEO of Tech City Investment Organisation, argued that Silicon Roundabout is thriving since the spotlight was thrown on it by government a year ago, citing growth from 200 to 500 start-ups. Activities such as Silicon Milk Roundabout also clearly demonstrate the paid opportunities that these start-ups are generating for graduates. However, Alex pointed to the difficulties in measurement because of the difficulty in distinguishing what is a tech business, what is a creative business or what is something else.

Regardless of the numbers in the clusters, Tara Solesbury, a digital media and creative industries consultant, drawing on experiences from Wired Sussex, pointed out the importance of the clusters occurring naturally and within the local community. In her experience, only clusters that formed organically thrived, the rest died out.  She welcomed the development of more ‘tech cities’ around the country.

It was suggested that perhaps with all these numerous start-ups clusters we are in the midst of a new bubble. But Elizabeth Varley, CEO of Tech Hub, argued ‘no.’ The resurgence of tech and entrepreneurship in London is not a bubble, causing ill-considered investment in businesses, but a genuine increase in the considered investment in companies. Austere times are causing this resurgence of entrepreneurial activity, and a change of mentality to ‘if you don’t have a job, make yourself one.’

Asked if there was a need to focus on cities, rather than ‘Tech Rural’ Alex argued that being located remotely is possible, but inevitably travel will be required as the business grows and engages with larger communities. For a small percentage of businesses, clients remain local, but the majority need to set off and expand.

A recurring theme from Eric Pickles was the need for government to avoid meddling wherever possible and helping to create the right environments, through mechanisms such as enterprise zones, rather than using regulation. His hope is that these thriving clusters link up and work together not just within the UK, but worldwide, emphasising the part that cloud computing can play in helping individual clusters to collectively grow into something much bigger, outweighing the importance of the ‘vibe’ in any one particular area. In Tech City we are embodying the ‘build it and they will come attitude’

The series of talks continue next Monday at Imperial College Business School. For more information and to register:

You can listen to the podcast of this week’s event here.




Building the future digital economy

October 12, 2011
by admin

Our Future Digital Economy: Who Will Build It?

18:30-19:30, 10th October 2011, Imperial College Business School

Blog by Andrew Fletcher

Launching a series of talks on different aspects of Tech City, the Guardian’s Tech Weekly team brought together a panel at Imperial College Business School to discuss the big issues.

Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts, kicked things off by highlighting the need to inspire people into Computer Science. This was a theme which was re-visited throughout the evening; How can we create the ‘Brian Cox effect’ in the digital economy? Turing was picked out as an inspiration, and with his centenary year coming up there is perhaps an opportunity there to inspire and bring on the future digital economy generation.

The message from Jeff Magee, Principal of Faculty of Engineering at Imperial College was clear: Industry help to shape our courses and they consistently tell us that they want computer scientists who are adaptable, numerate problem solvers, not people who are specialised in one particular technology. This message is echoed by start-ups businesses as well as large IT firms.

Start-ups are still having to go to Silicon Valley to hire good people, said Dan Crow from Songkick. This moved the discussion towards skills beyond coding, raising questions such as where does the entrepreneurial flair come from? David Willetts acknowledged that we need to be better in the UK, but said that we needed to work at changing the environment rather being in awe of the perception that America is just better at taking risks. The reason why Silicon Valley has become a successful cluster is because it fits his favourite definition; a low risk environment to conduct high risk activities.

Jeff Magee admitted that universities need to be better at supporting students in their entrepreneurial ventures but cautioned that this needs to be made available at the right time. Third year computing students come back from their six month placement in industry inspired by the real-world problems that they have been working on and full of ideas of things to do. That is the point to give them support in learning entrepreneurial skills and access to incubation facilities. The challenge is getting this support to the right people at the right time. At Imperial the Business School is ranked highly for innovation and entrepreneurship in its programmes and there are routes to make this available to students across the whole campus. The challenge is replicating this more widely. David Willetts championed the ambition of every university having its own entrepreneurship society, and this approach was supported across the panel.

Emma Mulqueeny inspired both the panel and the audience with her activities through Young Rewired State, identifying and supporting people to learn how to program and then come together to learn from each other. The question raised was when to start. Emma felt that nine year olds were definitely capable, particularly to help engage girls at a younger age and sustain their interest afterwards so as not to ‘lose’ them. This was echoed by the panel. The challenge, said Jeff Magee, is to keep them inspired by giving them interesting problems so that coding doesn’t just become ‘boring.’

Cross-disciplinary approaches were discussed, both in teaching and in research. Dan wanted to see more blending together of MBAs, computer scientists and designers. Imperial College was cited as an example of success in this area, collaborating on courses with the Royal College of Art and incubating businesses successfully that blend skills and disciplines. In the research space, David Willetts highlighted the importance of cross-disciplinary research, supported through grand challenges from the research councils.

Surely there is no better way to develop the skilled work force of the future than by working across the disciplines of the past on the problems of the future, such as the approach being taken by the Digital City Exchange. The real challenge, of course, is making sure that the pipeline of skilled people is strong enough to meet the need of these cross-disciplinary challenges.

The series of talks continue next Monday at Imperial College Business School. For more information and to register: