Sensor Place

Artist’s impression of Sensor City , Liverpool

A sensor is a tiny device that is increasingly becoming an important component in our daily lives. The buttons we use in lifts, that pings when you approach an automatic door, that secures buildings and offices; sensors aren’t simply about manufacturers but part of the wider ‘internet of things’ that is spilling technology into our hands and homes like an avalanche.

A new ‘Sensor City’ is to be built in the middle of Liverpool and according to Simon Reid from Liverpool’s Local Enterprise Partnership, it’s going to change business in the city from the grassroots up.

Sensor City is a unique partnership between University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University. It may have its geographical base (if it really has one) nearer to the city’s two cathedrals but its impact will be most keenly felt for those who work on the River Mersey.

“The potential for maritime is almost limitless”, says Simon Reid, sector manager for Advanced Manufacturing at Liverpool LEP. “Think of the geo positioning of ships, the real-time tracking of containers, alleviating transport and logistics issues for those coming into the city right through to the monitoring of temperature in cargo holds or containers to tackle human trafficking. Even for the cranes loading containers onto ships, sensors can improve that automation, ensure there is better positioning and use of lifting equipment”.

“Smaller companies have fleet of foot and the ability with technology that a larger company often doesn’t have…”

The ambition for Sensor City is to make Liverpool the recognised base for sensors and sensor technologies by 2025. It’s foundations are in a project the LEP began with the University of Cambridge two years ago. The idea was to map the city-region’s strengths in advanced manufacturing - from car building to data management and tie those together with future trends in the sector over the next twenty to thirty years.

Advanced Manufacturing in Liverpool city region is strong, from aerospace to automotive, energy to food and drink, there is a wealth of multinationals alongside SMEs that benefit from the calibre of talent attracted by the region’s resources. Planning for the future would give Liverpool a competitive edge.

“One of those areas where the city-region already had a competitive advantage was sensors and sensor systems. We launched Making It (which you can read here) in October 2013 to Vince Cable. A few months later the government put out a call for four university enterprise zones across the UK. It was an open bid”.

The idea of the enterprise zones was to harness the academic assets of the university to make local industry more competitive on the global stage. With a compelling sensor offer at both LJMU and Liverpool University the decision was made for a joint bisd. In November, the city was awarded £5m from government to find the capital build.

“What Sensor City will focus on is around sensors, sensor technology systems, advanced algorithms and big data”.

Already the impact is being felt in digital and technology SMEs in the city. Two members of Liverpool’s eHealth cluster - a project bringing together technology firms with health and social care providers to develop ideas and products to tackle the industries cris and challenges - were awarded six figure investments to fund products using sensors to tackle childhood treatment and detection from the SBRI Healthcare (Small Business Research Institute).  Collaborating with both universities as well as healthcare providers and researchers in the city, the idea of working together and sharing knowledge is at the heart of Sensor City.

“Collaboration is often a challenge. I think at SME and micro-business level there is quite high levels of collaboration. It’s much less when you talk from large companies down to SMEs; they often have huge global supply chains. There is a drive for re-showing and for local content. Forging those links is far easier around technology. What technology does is it gives companies a project to coalesce around. If you’re collaborating you get access to senior level people on their own and you start to build a relationship; that nibbles away at the supply chain”.

Already that collaboration is a greater focus for the city region’s biggest firms; Unilever has poured £30m into the Materials Innovation Factory to develop that as a crucible for working closely with smaller companies.

“Smaller companies have fleet of foot and the ability with technology that a larger company often doesn’t have. There are layers of global management from Europe to the UK a small company doesn’t have to worry about”.

Sensor City might seem like an ethereal regeneration, an intangible development but in fact it’s hoped the ideas, products and projects born out of it affect myriad companies around the city-region, from the riverside and Liverpool 2, to the factory floor at Halewood right down to the Baltic Triangle.

Sensor City is expected to be fully operational from April 2017. For more information click here.

Tags: , Liverpool Local Enterprise Partnership, Liverpool Senor City, University of Liverpool

Published: 10/03/2015