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Running in Hilary Term 2023, i-City (sponsored by MathWorks) invited postgraduate students from diverse disciplines to work in teams and find new ways to deploy AI and Machine Learning tools to solve challenges relating to Smart Cities.

Entrants in the 2023 i-City competition run in Trinity Term.

The UK has ambitious targets for achieving sustainability and reducing emissions by 57% by 2030, and in the era of big data and connectivity, smart cities that operate reliably, responsibly and intelligently will be key to achieving these targets. Meanwhile, the so-called ‘Energy Trilemma’ (providing affordable, resilient and clean energy) has been identified as a critical issue by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and dealing with resilience and connectedness issues is among its strategic priorities. As the population continues to escalate in urban areas, more efficient use of ICT is required to cope with problems common to modern cities, such as those related to the environment, social inequality, and governance.

The MPLS i-City programme sought to address these issues across three broad areas: Connected Mobility, Smart Electric Vehicle Charging, and Energy Efficiency and Sustainability. It was delivered over six weeks, starting with industry-pitched challenges to which AI and machine learning solutions might be applied, followed by weekly sessions in which students shared their ideas and learning at every stage. Four teams of postgraduate students completed the programme, with team sizes varying from two to five members, reflecting students’ interests. Participants were drawn from across the range of MPLS fields, from biologists, mathematicians and material scientists to computer scientists and engineers, plus one MBA student.

The final presentations tackled distinct challenges of modern cities: e-waste, energy management, and urban mobility. The teams presented considerable maturity both on the technical and economic viability aspects, which was partly explained by the diversity of the formed teams in terms of areas of expertise.

The winners were Stella Felsinger (Biology) and Eric Tokuda (Maths), for their ‘SafeWalk’ idea – Smart accessibility mapping: one step at a time. It made use of mobile phone sourced data to map hazards and log pavement usage to both inform street managers and promote safe routes, especially for those with access impairments. It was an elegant, simple concept, well researched and thought through, with a highly effective presentation. Other teams presented ideas on tools to enable older people to remotely control ambient temperature in their homes, and robotic tools and systems for EV battery disassembly and reuse. All presentations had potential for on-going development.

Thanks are due to MathWorks and Reuben College for their sponsorship and support throughout, to Professor Kostas Margellos, AI fellow at Reuben College as programme director, to Caroline Hicks of Brill Power and Rory Adams of MathWorks for setting excellent challenges and being highly effective judges, and to Professor Malcolm McCulloch and Llewellyn Morgan from the County Council and Nav Dean, RS EiR, for challenging the groups as ‘users’ of their ‘tech’.

i-City 2023 entrants i-City 2023 at the OUMNH