We held the first proper meeting of the Things Network Sheffield (TNS) community on Wednesday 31st May at the Electric Works, very kindly hosted & catered by Hive IT.
- Chris Dymond: Sheffield Digital & Unfolding.
- Sarah Cullen: Sheffield City Council
- Simon Cookson: Northern Value Creators
- Matt Proctor: Arup UK
- Jonny Rippon: Hive IT
- Siavosh Haghighi Movahed: Sheffield Hallam University
- Scott Knowles: Objectform
- Kurtis Wright: My Sheffield Pound
- Simon Redding: Systems Makers & Spire Digital
- Andy Nash: Becotix
- Chris Longbottom: Mobile Power
- Stuart Grimshaw: Digital Mesters Ltd
- Joachim Dreiman: WANdisco
- Martin Smith: Hive IT
Following introductions, the first thing we discussed was everyone's particular interest in the project, and where their motivations lie. This lead to us categorising three separate areas of activity as follows:
- Infrastructure - This is about hosting Gateways and building out the physical LoRaWAN network.
- Architecture & Development - This is about understanding the technical architecture, security model, sensor node capabilities, SDK and available development frameworks, etc.
- Applications & Use Cases - This is about understanding the affordances offered by the network, and applying them to real world situations, communicating the opportunity to orgs and civic stakeholders, co-designing applications, etc.
We looked at each of these in turn, and agreed that we should tackle these in sequence (albeit overlapping) - I.e. there's no point trying to build anything until we have at least one gateway in the field, and there's little point seriously engaging stakeholders until we have an infrastructure to innovate on. However, that's not to say that we shouldn't begin to look at the technical detail and application areas before engaging wider groups of stakeholders.
Several community members are interested in procuring and hosting gateways: SHU, Arup, Hive and Mobile Power have all expressed interest in hosting one or more gateways each.
Here are some things we discussed around this topic:
- We need to get info together to assist partners in becoming hosts - i.e. business cases for their firms, info about available gateways, power use, network security, etc. Hive IT have agreed to pull this info together into a sheet that partners can use. They will also engage with other Northern networks to gain their advice. One thing that we should be sure to mention in this information is that firms can use R&D tax credits to offset these costs. If we put together an information sheet around this we can host it as a resource on the TNS community page.
- We're targeting getting the first gateway on line before the summer break (so before end of July, basically).
- We're targeting 5 or 6 gateways across the city as a first milestone, so we can then start engaging stakeholders and developing hacks and innovation events with some infrastructure to work from.
- We'd look to join the range & signal-strength mapping exercise that Leeds and Manchester are engaged in (see here ).
- We're also looking to engage additional partners to procure and host gateways, e.g. Sheffield City Council, (once Mark Gannon, the new Head of IT, is in role), Sheffield College (Simon Cookson will contact their CIO Bella Abrams), University of Sheffield (Chris Dymond to contact Martin Mayfield or Simon Marvin). There are a number of local network infrastructure firms who may be very interested as well.
- Kurtis Wright emailed to explain that he and Scott Knowles are also working on bringing a gateway on line as well, and we will need to join up these strands of work before the next meeting.
- Simon Redding is also looking to bring a gateway online in Chesterfield, and there may be an opportunity to join Sheffield and Chesterfield networks up as we build the network out.
- We discussed how we might work with schools to host gateways, or how we might partner private firms who procure a gateway with schools who host them, and use those partnerships to develop educational enrichment via the network (more on this under Applications).
- We also discussed how we can incentivise hosts by providing them with promotional opportunities so they can show that they are supporting the development of the network infrastructure. One thing we can do is show network maps with logos associated with each gateway range.
Architecture & Development
There are a lot of technical aspects of the network that need to be well understood by people looking to develop applications on the infrastructure, and the implications of these technical affordances need to be understood by those of us who are looking to engage stakeholders in co-designing solutions. We also need to understand how the Things Network's business model works, now they have spun up The Things Industries, which provides enterprise-grade network servers and allow the network to offer service level agreements to applications providers.
As well as the architecture-level, we also need to think about how to foster enagement at the sensor node and application ends of the network, i.e. how we get hobyists, pro developers and agencies to learn how to build experiences. And then, hopefully, how we might extend this into schools and colleges, or simplify the development environment so that this is easier.
it's not clear yet how we do this, but we know there are partners in the city who can help with this, including Access Space and some of the other makerspaces, Pimoroni, Autodesk, Better With Data Society, Hack Sheffield, etc. We should look to develop hacks for designers and developers to understand the capabilities of the network.
In addition, Siavosh at SHU talked about setting up some research projects to underwrite the cost of setting up gateways, and using those projects to engage postgrads in development projects.
A related area is understanding the many sensor technologies that can be deployed. Co-incidentally, Newcastle University have just opened bids for the sensor procurement framework associated with their Urban Observatory, in which they categorise 6 types: 1. Environment 2. Weather 3. Transport 4. Energy 5. Water 6. Human. Building out a taxonomy of sensors based on these categories should help us explain the opportunities to potential partners and stakeholders.
Most of the stories in the Things Network Labs section relate to people trying new combinations of hardware and software with the network to see what works, and there's a large body of knowledge here - we need to get this knowledge more distributed amongst devs in the city.
One thing we could do in the meantime is to get someone to explain what the technical architecture means in practice at the next SmartSheffield meetup (which will be held on the 3rd July - any offers?)
Less well represented in the TTN Labs section are stories around specific applications, as we'd expect from a still emerging technology like this. However, we should keep track of applications and case studies as much as possible, for several reasons:
Firstly, it's very useful to keep track of what other people are doing/have done so we don't duplicate unnecessarily.
Secondly, it's the applications and the solutions they solve that really provide the business cases that will get organisations to invest in the project, so knowing what applications have been tried is crucial to gaining buy-in.
And finally, we need to be building on and borrowing from other projects as much as we can, and contributing what we do back, so gaining an understanding of these is fundamental to us as a community. It's to a large degree where the inspiration comes from :)
We also discussed the importance of design, and highlighting case studies in which visual, tactile and experience design played in important role, as such projects serve even more to explain and enthuse potential partners to the opportunities. One good example of this are the Aelora Birds.
So, to this end we should keep a list of applications that we come across (not just Things Network stories, but others that use similar 'chirp' networks such as Sigfox as well), so we have a collection of stories to draw from. (Although we're not sure yet where we should store this collection).
One thing we discussed is to identify key application domains, and see if we can find specialist in each of those domains who can engage with the corresponding ecosystems. The domain model outlined in the SmartSheffield report may be useful for this.
Communications & Meetings.
Finally, we also discussed how we should meet and coordinate the community. Here are the suggestions we made:
- Everyone should register with the Things Network and join the Sheffield Community.
- We should blog about our meetings and post them to the TNS Community Page.
- Partners can then repost these articles or post summaries & links.
- Everyone who joins the community should be added to the mailing list (I currently have this as a subset of the SmartSheffield mailing list in Mailchimp for sending out invites & updates).
- For instant messaging, we can either use the #ThingsSheffield channel in the Sheffield Digital slack, or the #Sheffield channel in the Things Network slack - we need to see which one works best for everyone.
- The core members of the community should meet at least once a month. We should try to coincide this with the SmartSheffield meetups where we can (i.e. schedule them for 5-6:30 beforehand). This means the next Things Network meeting will be at 5:30pm on Monday the 3rd July at Arup's.
Right, that's it I think. Plenty to chew on. Let me know if I've missed anything, or you have any thoughts! And if you want to get involved in this, please register with the Things Network and join the Sheffield community!