John Coolican has ridden the five-kilometre route to his Dublin office in the Docklands, east of the city, many times in the past. The bike journey takes him through narrow suburban roads, a pleasant stretch along the River Liffey, and then along the route of a defined cycle lane.

What makes his commute different is that he has been part of an experiment to capture data from his daily journey to benefit other residents and cyclists. In 2017, he started using a new bike light that not only reacted according to the prevailing conditions but also built a record of every trip, capturing useful data.

Coolican, who works for consulting firm Accenture in an innovation lab in the docklands, was one of 500 people that undertook a trial of the See.Sense light at the end of 2017 in conjunction with Dublin City Council.

“We knew that this company had a very interesting light that not only had the ability to record data but also to be a reactive light where cars coming from behind would be warned of their proximity to the bike as flashing would increase,” says Coolican.

The See.Sense light not only reacts and flashes according to the prevailing conditions but also builds a record of every trip capturing useful data

Irene McAleese, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of See.Sense was looking to work with a city through a closed trial before the product was launched to retail customers. She knew that if she could aggregate all the data– including braking points, dwell time at lights, effect of road surfaces and other factors–it would produce something very novel for cities.

McAleese’s search took her into discussions with Dublin City Council which was was looking for a way that technology could help improve conditions for cyclists with the ultimate aim of getting more people cycling. And with a group of workers commuting to the city’s new innovation district–known as Smart Docklands–she had the ideal guinea pigs to trial her own invention.

From nothing to something

Smart Docklands didn’t just happen overnight. The area had become run down over many years until the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority moved in in the late 1980s, and was followed cautiously by other companies in the 1990s.

“I lived just around the corner, and it was a bit of a no-go, not-much-to-do kind of area,” recalls Paddy Flynn, Director of Geo Data Operations at Google. “It was only by the early 2000s that a major regeneration began.”

When Flynn’s own employer–a relatively small company at the time–chose the area to set up their headquarters in 2003, others including Facebook followed.

“There was a regeneration plan anyway,” he adds. “Whether it coincided with companies like Google and Facebook coming along or not, I think that would have been a catalyst or a support to develop it further.”

The area soon earned the nickname ‘the Silicon Docks’ as other tech companies and start-ups–many of which have their European headquarters in the docklands–established themselves in the area. But as Jamie Cudden, Smart City Programme Manager, Dublin City Council says, there was nobody navigating or playing a broker role at the centre.

“We were starting to develop our wider smart Dublin programme and we were conscious of the fact that we had this special district that was being fast-tracked for development,” recalls Cudden. “The city had a strong presence helping to fast-track that development through our office and the timing was right to concentrate in that district.”

Paddy Flynn, Director of Geo Data Operations at Google, and Jamie Cudden, Smart City Programme Manager, Dublin City Council

Although officially launched in February 2018, the road to becoming the Smart Docklands was developed over several years and was born from a variety of initiatives. Beginning with the EU’s URBACT Smart Impact project, Cudden won nearly €70,000 in funding to build out the smart district concept with CONNECT research group at Trinity College Dublin.

“[The funding] was small in terms of capacity but at the same time we were able to build into the research opportunities, and to co-invest to hire a programme manager,” says Cudden. “The rest just flowed and took off as we built the network. It’s growing at its own speed now with the support of the city.”

Key areas of focus for the smart district include mobility, environment, buildings, and infrastructure. Deciding which projects and pilots to be deployed begins with stakeholder engagement workshops, followed by a “prioritisation funnel”. City challenges are identified first and with the city government at the heart of this initiative, companies could now talk to each other about what they might achieve in partnership.

“Dublin City Council was the kind of fulcrum for the focus of what we could do,” says Flynn, who was pivotal in the early stages due to his role at Google. “It meant that companies could now talk to each other and Dublin City Council could have individual relationships.”

Covering just three square kilometres, the Smart Docklands is now home to 500 businesses, 44,000 employees and 26,000 residents. The city, together with CONNECT research group for future networks and connectivity, has invested over €1 million over three years which has piggy backed on top of regeneration and investment that is being attracted to the district (circa €3 billion of new investment by 2020). Big companies that make up the Smart Docklands network include Vodafone, IBM, Facebook, Google, Accenture and Softbank.

Smart Docklands is a breeding ground for companies to diversify and push their core competences into new areas. Danalto, which had previously worked in the docklands to test IoT flood risk management devices and gully water flow, has now employed its technology to improve transport safety.

Building the brand has become one of the 6 steps involved in helping to promote the Smart Docklands district. This then has the wider potential to lock into the greater Smart Dublin programme through use cases coming out of the docklands’ ecosystem.

“When smart city tech becomes a bit more real and people can touch it and feel it and understand what the impact is, that helps,” says Cudden. “We want to use this opportunity not just for the sake of technology that looks cool but how we can create that connection back to the people to deliver services that are solving problems in the city.”

Co-creating is paramount, says Cudden. He believes that if cities aren’t at the forefront of some of these developments there is the risk they might develop in the wrong direction with e-scooters being one example.

“It is happening in our cities whether we like it or not, so let’s be a part of that,” adds Cudden. “The [Smart Docklands] district can help make that case quicker and can help build out awareness, create new opportunities and be at the top of this space.”

Accenture’s Coolican is full of praise not only for his bike light but also for his employer’s choice of location.

“It was a trial that came on the radar screen of the folks here in an innovation lab and it is the sort of environment where we are looking at a whole lot of new technologies and was something that people internally had a big appetite for,” he says. “It would be great to see a wider trial and bigger data because it is a win for traffic, a win for sustainability and a win from a health point of view.”