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How new smart street furniture in Belfast could save lives, clean air and help tourists

Belfast’s bid to become a smart city has been given a boost after installing Pulse Smart Hubs, a network of “smart street furniture” that boosts connectivity across the Northern Ireland capital

Belfast has become the first UK city to have “smart street furniture” installed in a £3m project – boosting connectivity and potentially even saving lives.

The Northern Ireland capital will introduce 25 “Pulse Smart Hubs” after Belfast City Council granted permission for the next-generation telecoms hubs to be fitted – with plans for five more pending.

The first 15 intelligent kiosks – similar to telephone boxes but less than half the size – are now live after being launched today (14 February) by the city’s Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey and tech entrepreneur Patrick Fisher, whose firm Urban Innovation Company supplied the hubs.

By providing free public Wi-Fi and packed with innovative features, the hubs are able to connect people with emergency services for faster response, tourist information for exploring the city and collect data for clean air programmes.

 

What is smart street furniture?

Patrick Fisher, founder and CEO of London-based Urban Innovation Company, said smart street furniture is “a network of beautifully-designed and engineered hubs that provide next-generation connectivity, share information, track the environment, and ultimately, save lives.”

He added: “We have been working closely with local stakeholders to ensure the Pulse Smart Hub network supports Belfast City Council’s strategic vision for smart cities and that the benefits to the city and its residents are truly maximised and available free to all.

In the age of the smart city, street furniture must do more to earn its place on the high street.

“At no cost to the public or taxpayer, the Pulse Smart Hub is the smartest of smart furniture.”

Belfast smart city
Belfast (Credit: Visit Belfast)

 

Features of Pulse Smart Hubs

The Pulse Smart Hubs will be strategically positioned around Belfast city centre, with the aim of providing a range of core public benefits in a digitally-led society. Services include:

  • An integrated defibrillator allowing anyone, even without training, to help a patient who suffers a sudden cardiac arrest nearby
  • Sensors that capture crucial data on air quality made available to city stakeholders to be used for clean air initiatives
  • A police override function for public messaging on the main screen, in case of an emergency
  • Public messaging to promote the city, local services, and events in collaboration with Belfast city centre management and Visit Belfast
  • A 999 button that connects directly to the police, fire, and medical services in case of an emergency, or if someone feels intimidated or vulnerable
  • A free-to-use touchscreen interface to access local maps, services, facilities, and visitor information provided in collaboration with Visit Belfast
  • Free public Wi-Fi so people can enjoy connectivity around Belfast city centre
  • Free local and national calls, plus mobile phone charging, and scope for mobile data offloading.

 

How smart street furniture can help Belfast smart city bid

Mr Fisher said the Pulse Smart Hubs represent the 21st century evolution of the telephone box, which was first introduced in the 1920s.

The hubs are 60% smaller than an existing phone kiosk, which he believes creates a modern, uncluttered street scene.

The installation and maintenance of the smart street furniture will be funded by digital advertising in a scheme operated by London-based Exterion Media.

Councillor Hargey said: “Besides all the features they offer to the benefit of the city of Belfast, Pulse Smart Hubs give our community something to be proud of and put Belfast on the map as a truly modern 21st century city that focuses on meeting its citizen’s needs.

“They are a symbol of all the agencies and key stakeholders in Belfast working together for the public good.

“I believe the smart hubs demonstrate the fact that we put Belfast’s residents and businesses at the heart of our thinking and planning.

“I am particularly impressed by the public health and safety features, plus the flexibility of Pulse offering a tailored service to Belfast’s specific needs – it is so much more than a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Furthermore, the smart hubs’ IoT capability is something that will become ever more important and valuable over time, as technology evolves and greater innovation is implemented within the city.”

 

Next steps for Belfast smart city programme

Mr Fisher believes the benefits of the Pulse Smart Hub network is only the beginning, saying there are plans to further enhance the city’s communications network.

“We are developing new applications for the hubs, new Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and looking for effective uses of the data we collect,” he said.

“To this end, we are partnering with Smart Belfast to provide a competition to win £20,000 for the best new tech idea designed for the hubs that tackle city challenges.

“We are proud to be able to deliver such a positive social impact through the latest technology at no cost to the user or taxpayer.”