Monday, 18 October 2010

Digital Futures 2010 - Day 3

The final day of the conference was comprised of two workshop sessions, morning and afternoon.

The first was Arjuna's - Enabling Universal Service Provision using Next Generation Access (NGA) Technologies. Unsurprisingly, the key to customer satisfaction when providing internet access is speed, reliability and cost.

We heard from Cybermoor, an organisation which provides internet access for the 'final third', going the last mile (download slides here). So what next? What follows Cybermoor?... Fibremoor of course!

If you're wanting to check out speeds in your area, have a look at Sam Knows.

Trevor Barker of Avanti delivered the second talk of the session (download slides here). We heard about HYLAS I (a satellite providing coverage for western Europe in 2010) and HYLAS II (Middle East and Africa, 2012). Trevor was understandably a little nervous - his satellite was just days from lift off... or disaster!

Avanti's portfolio includes: the Scottish Government's broadband reach project, getting more than 2000 customers online in the Highland and Islands; the department of Trade, Enterprise and Investment's rural broadband initiative in Northern Island; service provision in city-centre locations such as Birmingham; wind farm data analysis and dam monitoring.

So we know the delivery of broadband in rural areas is driven by population density, but what about the 'final third'? Maybe satellite technology can help...

The Hercules next generation satellite promises ~50 Mbps for ~700,000 customers meanwhile NXY will deliver a pilot service of iPlayer (with support from the BBC). The NXY pilot, to be rolled out to 100 homes in the UK, will be based on caching content on a hard drive, to be accessed (on demand) locally.

Its clear that satellite technology is not competing with the terrestrial, but rather complementing it.

It was interesting to hear from John Seton (BT Research and Development) and their ambitious plans: allocating £2.5 bn to roll out fibre to the first two-thirds of the UK by 2015; and the 'race to infinity' (a demand registration scheme, building a map of demand, with a competitive edge!).

John went on to talk about the BT project with Cornwall Council - NGA for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The plan? For up to 90% of homes and businesses in the area to get fibre access by 2014, building on the previous actnow campaign.

OK, OK, so its technically possible to deliver NGA to everyone, including the final third but what John really wants to know is what's everyone doing with it?! What do you really want to be able to do with high-speed broadband? Answers on a postcard...

John concluded by summarising BT's rural broadband research partnerships, to build a community of people, share information and best practice:
- the Wales research hub/rural observatory (coming soon!)
- Cornwall, Plymouth University and UC Falmouth
- Bute (a different way of serving 'not spots')
- and dot.rural!

Fresh from catching up with the Rural Broadband Conference in Penrith, dot.rural's Gorry Fairhurst led the fourth presentation (download slides here). Click here to watch Gorry's talk.

Jonathon Ishmael from Lancaster University brought the morning session to a close, introducing us to the 'Wray Living Lab' (download slides here).

The Wray broadband project built a live network testbed, leading to research into wireless mesh and social impact. Jonathon talked about the essential information required to maintain the network, user contention and security concerns.

My 'Engaging the Public with the Digital Economy' workshop followed after lunch with a great line up.

I kicked off with the introduction (download slides here) and then Chloe Sheppard discussed funding opportunities and the benefits of public engagement to the research community. If you're a researcher and you don't already know about the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE), the Fresh Science initiative, and the RCUK guides and toolkits... you should do!

Paul Rosen (download slides here) and Cathy Brown (download slides here) then delivered talks on the Researchers in Residence and STEM Ambassadors schemes, respectively. Remember, the two schemes are not mutually exclusive!

It was a pity the number of workshop participants was down on the registered figure - probably due to the unfortunate scheduling. Nevertheless, interesting points were raised and engaging discussions had by all.

Does the UK academia place too much emphasis on public engagement in the context of schools? What about other community partnerships?

Mark Dyball from People Science and Policy gave an overview of evaluation, highlighted the distinction between evaluation and monitoring and emphasised the value in planning evaluation as with any other exercise (download slides here).

Geoff Parsons from the British Science Association made it just in time (straight from a schools talk) to talk about 'the three principles' - engagement, translation and credibility.

Another Q&A session followed before I announced - da, da, da! - the 'final challenge'!

The final challenge: To participate (plan/deliver) in a public engagement activity (public, schools, research users etc) before January 2011 and share experiences – good and bad – online via the dot.rural blog. We look forward to reading the entries!

So what's the overall verdict on the conference? Digital Futures provides a great platform for the Digital Economy (DE) Hubs, DE Doctoral Training Centres and industry to get together, network and share knowledge. I think DE students and research staff would benefit from bursaries enabling more to attend.

It seemed dot.rural and the challenges of rural communities was a little under-represented during the three days and, rather disappointingly, the content didn't appear to be balanced across the three subject areas: Computing Science, Communications Engineering and Social Science.

Remember, dot.rural were tweeting throughout - you can follow us and catch-up with all our tweets here.

On the final night, before flying back to Aberdeen, the fire alarm rang out and our hotel was evacuated at 4 am! Dazed and confused we froze outside for an hour until... crew from the three fire engines confirmed there was in fact no fire(!)

Don't forget, the full programme from Digital Futures 2010 can be found here.

Finally, thanks to all those involved in making the workshops a success and thanks to the Horizon organising team!

We look forward to SiDE hosting it next year and hope to hear about more projects with real transformative potential.

See you next year!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Digital Futures 2010 - Day 2

Microsoft's Andrew Herbert keynote launched day 2: 'New Technologies for the Digital Economy' on telemedicine, directing treatments to individuals (by mathematical proofs), e-science outputs, virtual worlds, ageing populations and Bayesian inference. Let's just hope Andrew didn't stick around to hear another presenter rant I hate Windows during her talk later that day...

The first session of the morning, entitled 'Digital Experimentation (In the Wild)', started with a team from Glasgow University on 'Mass Participation in User Trials'. Two mobile applications were presented: the World Cup Predictor and Hungry Yoshi. I just can't help thinking, are these really solutions to the pressing challenges that the Digital Economy was conceived to solve?...

SiDE Ph.D .student Kyle Montague talked about ‘Adaptive Design’, treating users as individuals and the IndoorNav project. He went on to point out that adaptive systems, like Amazon ‘remembering’ what you bought and recommending future purchases, actually have skewed models of who we are… since Amazon is completely unaware of his passion for BBQs!!

The session concluded with Adam Moore from Horizon talking about ‘Positioning in the Wild – Illustrating Emerging Issues’, augmented reality, navigate [the information space] by navigation, narrating the past and present by overlaying photos and annotations on mobile applications. The example shown centred around the now non-existent pub, ‘Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem’ – a great starting point for any research project!

This talk raised lots of questions for the geographers in the house, including: How do you define ‘place’?... Should we be adopting this kind of approach – real-time images, GPS, annotations, historical facts, and narratives – within the Enterprise & Culture or Natural Resource Conservation projects?

The morning session that followed, ‘Emergent Ideas’, took the quick fire format – ensuring the talks were snappy and engaging.

George Kuk presented the ‘Innovator’s Dilemma: Digital Inclusion vs. Innovation’ and ubiquitous computing, asking is such IT and Internet access a ‘right’. George also discussed codified knowledge – computer vs. information literacy – and posing social complementarity (i.e. reaching out to user communities) as the only solution.

Another topic with strong links to our Enterprise & Culture projects came from Ann Light, presenting ‘ and Ethical Marketing 2.0’. The talk focused on consumer interfaces and ethical information and the effort to make the provenance of goods more visible to all parties involved in the transaction, e.g. throughout the production, shipment and trade of, say, Indian coffee. Some key challenges arose during the project, including issues surrounding ethical credentials (which party gets what?), political sensitivity… and the question of the responsibility of researchers.

Paul Egglestone and Jon Rogers presented the next, rather refreshing, quick fire talk: ‘Bespoke: Increasing Social Inclusion through Community Journalism and Bespoke Design’. The title pretty much says it all! The Bespoke project puts the ‘grass roots’ approach into practice, asking the community directly about the types of products or services they would like. Paul and Jon achieve this, not by traditional methods such as surveys or questionnaires, but through the medium of journalism and community news as insight tools.

The Bespoke project trained up and commissioned community reporters, for the estate, from the estate itself. After distributing their stories in community newspapers and identifying themes, physical outputs were built. This culminated in the creation and deployment of ‘digital buskers’. Is there any scope for a Bespoke-type tool when engaging with, and conducting research in, rural communities?

A series of transport-related quick fire talks followed – are you listening Accessibility & Mobilities?... (Disappoint for John N though, no mention of taxis!).

SiDE reviewed their work on ‘Digital Transport: Using DE Systems to monitor and assess the technical and driving performance of electric vehicles’. Their research included identifying the related issues (power consumption/regeneration, driving performance, road topology, weather conditions etc). The end goal of mapping the perceived vs. projected range (e.g. how far can an electric vehicle travel along a particular trajectory) then considered all of these measurements and challenges... with surprising results! What was even more surprising was that after a day and half, this was the first mention of ‘rural communities’!!

Nikolay Mehandjiev’s talk on ‘Balancing Commuter Traffic with Agents’ continued the transport theme, introducing agents as transport segments (roads, trains, buses) and multi-modal routing. The agents regulate the segment load at peak times, negotiate with other, personal agents (e.g. journey planners) and enable ‘bidding’. The model is based around eco-credits, distributed as an incentive and able to be cashed in, for a tax return. Related issues of privacy and security need still to be addressed, while establishing the cognitive and social factors impacting multi-modal commuting is also outstanding.

It seems there’s considerable overlap between this research and, our: agents technology platform; our Accessibility & Mobilities projects; and the potential for developing associated business models and forging commercial partnerships with Royal Mail, local councils etc (i.e. our Enterprise & Culture projects).

Members of the Horizon DE Hub presented their talk on ‘User and organisational needs for ad-hoc car sharing’ and the socially connected journey, illustrated by two applications – car sharing and taxi sharing. Their findings include: the context of car/taxi sharing is important (another anecdote featuring line dancing!); car/taxi sharing is more found to be acceptable when occasional; time information is more important in the decision-making process than route information; the timing of setting up the car/taxi sharing is important; users are prepared to share their data; cost savings or incentives are well received. In terms of user interfaces and the delivery of information, it was reported that simple text messages were more valued, as opposed to complex geographical representations. So, what was their overall message? Technology can help, but within a social context.

Iain Buchan’s talk on ‘NHS e-Labs: Engineering Digital Health Economies’ doubled the number of ‘rural community’ mentions! I saw obvious synergies with our Healthcare projects and the topics Iain covered - chronic diseases, co-morbidities, the ‘what if’ policy simulator for planning and impact assessment, personalised and local healthcare.

The group from Cranfield University presented ‘Energy Harvesting MEMS: A promising alternative to power the digital economy’ and their potential use in sensor systems, the Healthcare sector and environmental monitoring. Maybe I was missing something pretty key but piezoelectric (quartz etc) and thermoelectric materials have been around for years... So I was left wondering what exactly was novel here? Meanwhile, Arjuna was left wondering if its possible to wirelessly 'share' energy between networks of MEMS? (Take a look here at one potential application, completely independent of the discussions which took place during Digital Futures.

The morning session came to a close and, rather frustratingly, I'd only just discovered the delegate list here. Hmmm... Surely an essential feature of any conference pack?

I managed a tad more networking over lunch which included an interesting discussion with a new SiDE student. Could the hosts of other Digital Futures work 'breakout sessions' into their programme? Even informal groups where, say, students are scheduled to gather for ~30 minutes for a short introduction could prove helpful.

dot.rural’s Director, John Farrington, chaired the first session after lunch, entitled ‘Digital Inclusion’. First up was Paul Watson on social inclusion in the digital economy, building up a pool of over 3000 users, highlighting strong links with our Healthcare project on chronic disease management and exclaiming we can't just solve this with a technology push. ‘Rural communities’ also got another mention, but hey, who’s counting?! At the end of his talk, I left wanting to know more about Culture Lab...

Lorna Gibson opened her talk on ‘Facilitating Appropriate Access to Consumer Healthcare Information’ with this stat: 68% of people in the UK have searched for health information online. Uh-oh...

The last talk of the session was Leela Damodaran’s on the subject of ‘Sustaining Digital Engagement: Some Emerging Issues’ and the Sus-IT project. Leela introduced the idea of a ‘virtual grandchild’ – a type of real-time, on demand reference ‘tool’ or person to assist older people with IT challenges... Great idea but where does it end? Would we need a ‘virtual great-grandchild’ to explain how to use the ‘virtual grandchild’ and so on... ‘The project is designed to prolong the independence of older people through IT use... of particular relevance for our Healthcare theme?

After the break, Edoardo Pignotti’s talk on ‘a provenance fabric’ included discussion on the security of data provenance and the need for an architecture to describe and uniquely identify artefacts, processes, organisations, people and social networks and to define relationships between these.

Martin Flintham from Horizon and the Mixed Reality Lab led the penultimate talk, on ubiquitous technologies, the power of crowd sourcing and the context of outside (i.e. not in a conventional TV studio) broadcasting where ‘we’ become the directors/editors). One example given was a Radiohead gig in 2009 where the audience filmed, edited and published the performance (crowd sourcing, citizen journalism and outside broadcasting in action). Some research examples given were based on the ideas of the viewer directing their own experience, mobile video-streaming platforms and marathons as ‘many spectators, many participants’ scenarios.

Chris Greenhalgh’s talk, ‘Towards a Platform for Urban Games’, lobby services on mobile devices and ‘exploding places’ concluded day 2.

Before dinner at Fothergills...

we had a rare few minutes to explore Nottingham's delights - well, the castle.

OK, the Robin Hood statue as well...

Day 3 is on its way...


Saturday, 16 October 2010

Digital Futures 2010 - Day 1

On Sunday October 10th, a few dot.rural's travelled down to the Horizon Digital Economy Hub in Nottingham. Profs John F and Tim, Dr Arjuna, and Chris B were all attending the first Digital Futures annual conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel (whilst dot.rural's Hien was representing us at Innovate 10, London).

Note to self: Never stay in the 'Nottingham Central Travelodge' again.

Day 1 kicked off with an intro from John Hand (RCUK, Digital Economy Programme) asking us to note who is not here that should be? I looked around but couldn't see any users...

The keynote on 'Living with a Contextual Footprint' and delivered by Tom Rodden followed. Whilst Tom talked about privacy and permanency, I considered the irony of blogging about it later.

The morning session on 'Digital Identity and Storage' included talks from Richard Mortier on a decentralised future, 'the cloud', 'the mist' and 'droplets'!

This was followed by Wendy Moncur on 'Digital Inheritance' - an unavoidably morbid topic, however its presented. Wendy's talk threw up a few surprises; there's a very real possibility that anyone of us will be baptised a Mormon after death, irrespective of our personal beliefs during life.

The final talk of the morning came from Derek McAuley on 'all our data in one place', data mining, business models, trust and ownership.

We paused for lunch (four desserts for Arjuna!) before reconvening for the 'Digital Interaction and Experience' afternoon session.

Gabriella Giannchi discussed the 'case of Rider Spoke', mixed media experiences and documents and archives to help connect communities. The idea of mashups and annotating and tagging digital media to enhance experiences... Are there any links with our Enterprise & Culture and/or Natural Resource Conservation projects, e.g. wrt to tourism?

'Automics' was introduced by Steve Benford as automated comics, going on to present theme parks as a complex photo ecology. I was looking forward to this but was left wondering about the scope of such photo, experience-based and semi-personalised souvenirs. Would I buy one at the end of a day at Alton Towers? No, probably not.

I was thankful for the exciting talk on 'Collaborative Cross-Modal Interfaces' from the team Queen Mary which pepped up the afternoon. Nick, Tony and Oussama introduced auditory diagrams; a tool to make diagrams more accessible to those with no/partial vision (whether depicting management structures in companies, files and folders on computers, technical schematics or financial plots). Ever wondered what an arrow 'sounds' like? This seemed to be one real example of (potentially) changing peoples lives using technology.

Ella Taylor-Smith's talk on 'Web 2.0 for Collaborative Production', e-government, e-participation, inclusion, connecting institutes of 'local power' in the Big Society and stronger social networks... This one prompted lots of discussion from the floor: is there a tension between inclusion and innovation? Is e-participation techno deterministic? How can we get people to act altruistically? Paul Kindred from the Welsh Assembly asked: There's a positive UK (mostly England & Scotland) inclusion agenda right now (Martha Lane Fox etc) but what about Wales?

I'd never heard of the Good Gym before. Its a brilliant initiative where Londoners do good deeds whilst out running, like delivering library books to elderly or house-bound residents en route. Its probably the one thing, if nothing else, I'll take away from Digital Futures. Thanks Ella!... Is there anyway of adapting this model and applying it to solve challenges in rural areas?

A quick break, a little bit of networking and a lot of coffee and cookies later... The 'Digital Communities' section began (chaired by dot.rural's Tim Norman).

It was great to hear from Lorna Gibson on the Seeds For Design project and the digitally disengaged. Currently the project is centred around Leeds, Dundee and Kent. Are there any plans to extend this study to rural areas?

The next talk of the session was by Ruth Rettie on 'CHARM: The Social Norm Approach to Sustainable Behaviour Change'. The CHARM project is an example of using digital technologies to assist with behaviour change. Keep your eyes peeled for the associated iGreen Facebook app, to be launched soon!

Jon Whittle
from Lancaster University presenting 'VoiceYourView: Mapping Public Confidence in Policing' concluded this session - undoubtedly the most engaging of all sessions over the two days.

VoiceYourView is a super initiative involving perception maps and natural language generation (links with dot.rural's MIME and Accessibility & Mobilities projects, as well as a technology platform?). VoiceYourView collects observations (such as 'how safe do you think your neighbourhood is?...) and overlays these on geographical maps, publishing them on public displays in real-time, with a view to improving society. Take a look at their paper here...

Does the combination of perceptions (or indeed facts) and maps pose any opportunities for dot.rural's Accessibility & Mobilities projects? Could real-time mapping of perceptions and actual data (e.g. on bus arrival times) assist the informed flexible passenger project?

Jon's presentation prompted questions such as: What if you simultaneously mapped perceptions and reality? Could publishing perceptions actually shape data, creating extreme scenarios in society? i.e. If you believe crime to be high in an area, could that belief, when made public, actually drive crime up beyond the true level?...

After a short break the evening poster session began. Two dot.rural members were selected to present their research: Arjuna Sathiaseelan on universal service provisioning using next generation access technologies;

and Chris Baillie on provenance in the web of linked sensor data.

With a long and jam-packed day almost behind us all that was left was the conference dinner: tomato soup with mozzarella; apricot stuffed chicken with vegetables/squash crumble; and lemon tart. Thanks to John F, I attempted to challenge Arjuna's 'four dessert record'. Unfortunately, my two helpings of lemon tart, white chocolate 'slice' and raspberry coulis just wasn't enough to claim victory.

A review of day 2 is on its way...


Thursday, 14 October 2010

Carbon Responsible Transport Conference. Aberdeen 12/10/10

I attended a conference for the European Interreg project CARE-North at Aberdeen City Council where speakers from Scotland and other northern European cities presented. The presentations in the morning were related to the Scottish context and discussed transport policy as well as business, cultural and social factors that influence transport strategies and modal choice. Professor Richard Laing discussed the importance of public engagement in transport strategy and outlined initial findings from a study which indicated that the public on the whole support initiatives to improve air quality in Aberdeen City. Philip Smart presented on the importance of engaging with the business community when trying to reduce pollution from freight vehicles. In the panel discussion there was some debate about how to overcome the issues of the politicisation of transport and a quite extensive (and polarisedl!) discussion about a suggestion that lorries be allowed to use dedicated bus lanes to prevent them becoming stuck in traffic. There was also discussion of how the economic downturn was affecting the development of carbon responsible transport strategies.

The afternoon presentations were from speakers from Leeds and some of the European partners. I particularly enjoyed the presentation from Michael Glotz Richter from Bremen about Low Emissions Zones (LEZs) and Car Clubs where he demonstrated that even though the LEZ was initially very controversial with the business community, it has been successful and has attracted widespread interest from around the world. Also, Steve Heckley from Leeds Metro highlighted the importance of developing robust (low cost) methodologies for monitoring carbon impacts which ties in with the work of the RGU team by Amar Nayak. In the final panel discussion a delegate who had worked in transport in Africa raised the point that high polluting vehicles from Europe were being exported to developing countries thus shifting the problem of emissions around rather than tackling the problem on a global scale. There were also discussions about the relative importance of developing electric and other 'clean' vehicles vs promoting modal shift to walking and cycling.

Although there was recognition of the tremendous challenges for local governments developing carbon responsible transport strategies the tone of the conference was very upbeat and I left feeling positive for the future development of low carbon transport initiatives in Europe.