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CityVerve Manchester Immersive Lab

Saville helps deliver a key interactive installation for a Smart City of the Future

Winning funding from a Government-led technology competition, the CityVerve project aims to harness the Internet of Things (IoT) to create a Smart City delivering enhanced service provision for its inhabitants. Designed to transform our daily lives in the digital age, Manchester was selected as the UK city to pilot the project, demonstrating how the imaginative use of smart technology can make a real positive difference to how people live and work.

The CityVerve project demonstrates applications of Internet of Things technologies and services in four key areas: healthcare, transport, energy and environment plus culture and community. A blueprint for the future, the project aims to provide a replicable model for other cities, not only in the UK, but worldwide.

Using a network of sensors across the city, Manchester becomes a connected city, drawing data to a central server enabling smart improvements to help deliver more personal, efficient and flexible products and services. A network of sensors in parks and along commuter routes encourage people to do more physical activity whilst monitoring air quality; talkative bus stops let bus operators know when commuters are waiting whilst providing live updates on services; bike sharing and smart street lighting encourage alternative forms of transport to reduce traffic congestion - these are just a few examples of the vast number of innovative elements which connect the city.

Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey said of the project:

“The UK’s tech sector is renowned for its creativity as well as pioneering research and development. The Manchester project will help the UK to be a world leader in the adoption of Internet of Things technologies and inspire others around the world to create smarter cities.”

The challenge

Involving a consortium of 21 organisations including Manchester City Council, Manchester Science Partnerships and the University of Manchester, the IoT technology concept is powered by Cisco International, driving the platform upon which this innovative project is orchestrated.

Cisco partnered with Saville AV to design and install a number of immersive interactive labs using NEC display technology to showcase its otherwise invisible smart connections. The first public representation of the connected city is accessible at the Manchester Science Park, a huge 5x3 interactive NEC video wall located in the Bright Building. Displaying live, real time data, the video wall generates the visualisation of live feeds coming in from across the city where visitors can manipulate information to gain an overview or deep dive into any particular feature. Virtual maps, transport updates, bus and train locations, traffic data - even feeds from the local Bee Project can be visualised!

Manchester Videowall

Circumstances conspired to leave Saville AV and NEC with just one week to complete the installation, but the project was finished on time, ready for the official opening of the Bright Building at Manchester Science Park, the centre of operations for the CityVerve project, in September 2017.

BRIGHTBUILDING

The Bright Building is also the new nerve centre for the region’s digital technology sector, a huge contributor to Manchester’s economy. Known as Mi-IDEA, the centre is designed to foster and nurture digital innovation. The building’s flexibility allows blue chip corporates to co-locate with pioneering start-up enterprises where the giant NEC video wall is perfectly positioned to facilitate collaboration, enabling innovative ideas to develop and valuable partnerships to form. Allowing multiple touch points and with a VC camera and speakers, the video wall becomes a vast visual interface in an immersive video conferencing space.

Ian Kennedy, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a Chartered Engineer, Chartered IT Practitioner, member of the IET, BCS & IEEE, and BCS Certified IS Consultant explained:

“Visualisation is a critical success factor in the dissemination of complex ideas and developments. The impact of the immersive screens at Mi-IDEA to highlight the ongoing smart city developments across Manchester cannot be overstated. Being able to show visually and interact physically at large scale with complex systems benefits researchers and dramatically improves engagement with the general public - a powerful instrument to highlight innovation!”

On opening night, the video wall was one of the key exhibits and was by far the most popular attraction as visitors experienced intuitive finger touch control, clicking on landmarks and location icons to access information. NEC’s interactive video wall solution intuitively invites multiple users to engage, share and have fun with the content.

Manchester Videowall

The solution

The fifteen-screen wall is configured using 55” NEC MultiSync® X555UNS-PG displays which feature special protective vandal proof glass. The 2mm toughened glass with anti-glare coating not only protects the display from damage, but also provides crisp and clear images from different viewing angles and distances whilst acting as a smooth touch surface for the user. The ultra-narrow bezel results in minimal image interruption, just 3.7mm where frames join. Thanks to NEC’s FrameComp, content is displayed without any interruption, creating one stunning image by synchronizing the content across the wall. The name of the Bright Building might also suggest high ambient light but with brightness of 700cd/m2, the content remains highly visible. With 10-bit colour performance, extreme viewing angles and hardware calibratable LUT, viewers benefit from consistently accurate image rendering.

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The interactive touch screen capability is provided by NEC’s solution partner, Baanto, using versatile ‘ShadowSense’ frames located around the screens to map users’ touch points. The NEC Modular Touch System is simple to configure, there is no single huge glass overlay to handle, each module is a separate element, scalable to achieve any size of interactive surface. Should maintenance be required, each screen module can be swapped out independently without the traditionally difficult servicing issues when using a touch-overlay where the protective glass is built into one solid frame.

The screens are mounted on Unicol pop-out wall mounts and framed by a bespoke veneered surround supplied by Saville AV. Exceptional sound reproduction is provided via an Extron DSP Matrix Processor and amplifier plus eight JBL Control pendant loudspeakers. The wall is driven by a TVone CORIOmaster system, fed from the CISCO cloud-based service.

To ensure user-friendly operation, Saville AV designed a bespoke control system to centrally manage all elements of the video wall operation, controlling input of multiple sources and live feeds. Whilst capable of 24/7 operation, to reduce unnecessary power usage, the video wall is scheduled to power up and power down at the beginning and end of each day. The highly energy efficient LED backlit displays ensure low power consumption, longer backlight lifetime and lighter design for easy handling during installation.  NEC’s unique heat management ensures continuous peak display performance and perfect uniformity whilst sensors ensure eye pleasing brightness whatever the ambient conditions.

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The result

Bringing the Internet of Things concept of connecting physical objects via the internet and letting them communicate has been brought to fruition through this innovative project. Cisco and its partners have created a platform upon which to develop limitless open innovation through collaboration to support a smarter, brighter, more efficient community.

Whilst data generated from this project will benefit local government in the efficient provision of better services to Manchester’s business and domestic residents, Cisco also envisaged a public interface whereby the city’s residents can experience for themselves how their city beats. The CityVerve Immersive Lab at Manchester’s Science Park is just one element of a far bigger project to introduce multiple interfaces, inviting the public and businesses to interact with Manchester’s Big Data collection. 2018 will see further video wall solutions installed in the city as part of the expanding project. 

Nick Chrissos, Head of Strategy and Innovation, Cisco UKI commented:

“This project could not have happened without Saville who were trailblazers willing to co-create with Cisco’s forward looking engineers by using our technology to launch the first public installation of an Immersive Lab. Together, we created something new at Mi-IDEA, an interactive wall that did not exist anywhere in the world - and now, from this experience, we can deploy this technology anywhere in the world.”

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