If you’ve an hour to spare, it’s worth catching up with the recent BBC documentary The Joy of Data, available on the iPlayer until 19 August. As well as looking at the invention of J Lyons’ ‘Electronic Office’ in the 1950's, and providing an inventive explanation of package switching, Dr Hannah Fry visits Bristol to investigate how the city is ‘putting the sharing and real-time analysis of data at the centre of everything it does’.
Bristol: the UK's first city of the future?
Sensors all over the city – including in people’s smartphones, if they agree – will collect information on everything from traffic flows to air quality and share it through a vast, high-speed network. The idea is that powerful computers can analyse this data almost instantaneously and react in useful ways – changing traffic lights or redirecting traffic, for example.
Here’s the promotional video from the people responsible:
The potential of such a system to speed up traffic, shorten commuting times and even prevent accidents, is exciting. A ‘connected city’ like the one Bristol is aiming to be could also facilitate the transition to driverless cars, which the government is starting to think more carefully about. As Stephen Hilton, director of the City Council’s ‘Bristol Futures’ team, says:
‘We are starting to experiment with driverless cars, and in order for driverless cars to work they have to be able to communicate with the city infrastructure. So your car needs to be able to speak to the traffic lights, the traffic lights need to speak to the car, the cars need to speak to each other. All of that requires a completely different set of infrastructure.’
In other words, the cars of the future will work best in the cities of the future. Cities like the one being built in Bristol.
The whole programme is on the iPlayer here, with the section on Bristol beginning about 43 minutes in.