SmartNE put themselves on the map after winning Innovation Martlesham’s ICT competition

(Pictured left to right: Rob Collingridge, specialist consultant BT; Kevin Blyth head of future con

(Pictured left to right: Rob Collingridge, specialist consultant BT; Kevin Blyth head of future consumer applications & services research BT; Ken Guild, technical director, SmartNE; Goff Hill, business development director SmartNE; Nicky Daniels, head of Innovation Martlesham - Credit: Archant

In June, BT’s Adastral Park in Martlesham will play host to over 4,000 visitors for Innovation Week 2017, a technology trade fair created by BT and led by 100 Adastral Park tech experts with the aim of showcasing the research and innovations created in Suffolk at BT’s global R&D campus.

Smart NE's software is used to power this public kiosk located in Cathredal Square Worcester

Smart NE's software is used to power this public kiosk located in Cathredal Square Worcester - Credit: Archant

One company that will be presenting at BT’s Innovation Week event is Smart Networked Environments (Smart NE), a business based at the University of Essex in Colchester that was recently announced winner of Innovation Martlesham’s ICT competition for 2017 - an initiative that seeks to identify technology concepts that have the potential to become successful business offerings.

Smart home

Smart NE won the competition after putting forward their ideas around the smart home concept on how such a home can make life better for those living there but the company’s origins go back to 2011 when the business started as an initiative to help students and visitors in wheelchairs get around the campus at the University of Essex.

“The campus is spread out, has multiple floors and has a complex room numbering system, so for anyone in a wheelchair, getting around can be a bit of a nightmare,” explained business development director Goff Hill.

Working with disabled students at the university, technical director Ken Guild developed an online map with navigation that could be downloaded to a smartphone or webpage and allow users to plot either a direct route or an accessible route that avoids steps, steep slopes and even cobbled pathways.

“We applied some of the network routing algorithms that I had used in my research at the university,” said Guild.

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“We spent the first year and a half working out how to import CAD plans efficiently into a digital form to gives us the ability to automatically identify corridors and link them to stairwells, lifts and entrances.”

Converting CAD

Having the ability to quickly convert CAD plans into digital format is a key technological achievement for the business and provides a foundation for much of the work that has followed. It enables them to manipulate the plans, so, for example, they can colour code different rooms or overlay them onto mapping apps, and publish them to an array of devices – such as a smart phone or a kiosk.

“We’ve spent a lot of time making sure it will run on every single platform and browser and load very quickly for users,” continued Guild, who explained that although the map was originally designed for use by disabled students, it became popular across the whole student population, especially at the start of a new term when it was downloaded many times by students who wanted to know the location of the rooms where their lectures and tutorials were to be held.

Since this initial success, the software product, now called WA12Go, has been adopted by other education establishments including Warwick University, while Smart NE has also worked with Worcestershire County Council which uses the system in a public touchscreen kiosk located in Worcester’s Cathedral Square to give members of the public bus and train information.

Guild says there are many other areas where this ability to map and locate items can be applied.

Location, location, location

“Everything can be based on location - for example, this book is on a table in a room,” he said.

“The software has been built to be recursive, so we can look at things at different levels - we can look at a national map, then go into a town, then go into a hospital or university, then into a particular room – it can go inside, then inside and then inside.”

Potential ideas include applying the software to hospitals to better track bed space and the location of equipment or to use it to track hire bikes or personnel.

And it was this idea applied to the home where the mapping technology could be integrated with sensors in objects to help care for vulnerable people that impressed judges at BT, MediaTek and University of Suffolk who ran the ICT competition.

Hill added: “We are delighted to be chosen as the winner of the Innovation Martlesham competition. We are already a pioneer of smart mapping and data brokering solutions with our WAI2Go product and this gives us a fantastic opportunity to extend into the area of smart homes.

“The smart homes market is forecast to grow rapidly over the next five years. It’s going to be highly competitive, but we have some great ideas and we believe we can capture a share of it.”

Innovation Martlesham is the right place to be to do that.”