The Urban Data Collective’s solution the Urban Data Exchange empowers organisations to unlock value of real time data from urban infrastructure and IoT systems and manage data access, re-use, sharing and monetisation
Hi Urban Data Collective! Can you present your team and company to us?
It’s great to be part of the REACH incubator – thanks for having us!
Our small team currently consists of Sarah Gallacher, technical co-founder and Engineering Lead, Jason Brewer our Senior Fullstack developer and myself, Alex Gluhak, Founder and CEO.
We had a bigger full-time team last year when we built our initial product. Although we managed to secure some paying customers already, we had to adjust our team to market reality until we raise further funding. Having said this, we still rely on some of our previous team members on a part time basis to help us out on UX and design, technical and business development work.
Sarah and I created Urban Data Collective at the height of the pandemic during Dec 2020, with the goal to accelerate the urban data economy.
There are many challenges that cities and urban infrastructure operators are now facing such as growing urbanisation, climate change, natural disasters, and pandemics.
In order to make the right decisions and adequately respond to the real world, they need factual data about their urban environment that tells them exactly what’s going on, how people and systems respond to changes and different interventions they experiment with and what difference it can make to our environment, the way we deliver services and experience of citizen in everyday life.
Such urban data needs to be increasingly timely and cannot rely on year-long data collection campaigns as it will be likely out of date by the time a decision can be made. Emerging technologies such as Internet of Things sensors and other data-driven urban systems are now making an increasing amount of real-time data available.
As cities adopt such new solutions, they are unintentional however creating separate data silos across different systems, which makes it difficult for them to make use of this data outside their service dashboards. It greatly limits the utility of such data as it cannot be easily discovered and shared by others or reused to solve more complex challenges, empower new insights, apps and services.
We therefore made it our mission to democratise access to real-time urban data, so others can use it to create better urban futures. Our product, Urban Data Exchange (UDX) is a platform that empowers organisations such as cities and urban infrastructure operators to unlock value of real time data from urban infrastructure and IoT systems and manage data access, re-use, sharing and monetisation.
How did you learn about REACH Incubator and what made you apply?
In the past Sarah and I worked on many FP7 and H2020 projects, so we know that there are initiatives like REACH providing cascade funding to SMEs and supporting innovation in specific technology areas.
When doing some background research on data sharing agreements and commercial data licensing, we came across the European Data Incubator – a predecessor of REACH.
So, when the REACH Incubator open call was released – focused on data value chains – we saw it as a really good opportunity to develop a data-driven service idea that addresses a challenge of one of our customers. It provided us with the opportunity to develop a complementary data product on top of our urban data exchange platform, which is likely to provide benefits to many more of our future customers.
You have brought forward your own challenge Improving Charge Point Infrastructure Rollout and Management for Local Authorities. How do you think experimenting with and solving this data value chain challenge will set the foundations for scaling your solution?
Many local authorities and cities are now trying to decarbonise transportation as part of their Net Zero strategies and local transport plans. Switching people from fossil fuel vehicles to zero emission vehicles such as electric vehicles (EVs) is a major part of this but requires an adequate public infrastructure to be in place. Cities and local authorities have a key role to play in its delivery but struggle to do so fast enough with limited resources and public budgets.
Through UDX, we already enabled Surrey County Council to access data from their existing charge point infrastructure, but they needed further help to turn this data into actionable insights so they could use it effectively for strategic planning decisions on further infrastructure rollout, regular reporting tasks or better operational decision making.
REACH provided us with the funding and headspace to dive deeper into a customer problem and develop a data-driven solution that relies on real-time data from a value chain of different systems, such as EV charge points, smart parking sensors, vehicle registrations and so on. We are now closely developing a solution together with our customer that could solve not only problems within their own organization, but address challenges that other local authorities are facing not only in the UK and the rest of Europe but across the globe.
Please present your solution and elaborate on how it differentiates from the competition.
Every city is now investing (or likely to invest very soon) in the rollout of public EV charge points, either through government support or private sector partnerships. Depending on the size of a city or local authority, thousands of such charge points might be needed, with costs easily going into the millions. Such infrastructure is often provided by a mix of suppliers to ensure competitive pricing and access to the best technology and service delivery in a rapidly evolving market. From a strategic planning point of view, a local authority needs to make the right choices in where to deploy these chargers based on emerging real-world demand, suitability of deployment locations and other factors. A single EV charger can cost tens of thousands of Euros, so it is important that it ends up in an area where it can be effectively used. From an operational view, local authorities need to ensure that chargers become quickly available in the right areas and are working reliably. Delays in rollout or unreliable chargers can quickly knock the confidence of EV drivers and slow down the adoption of EVs by citizens. There are also costs associated with running the infrastructure such as energy and maintenance costs. While EV charging can generate revenues, it is not only important to maximize infrastructure utilization but also to carefully manage energy usage. This is difficult to track with an increasing number of energy tariffs from different providers. There are also regular reporting duties for local authority teams around EV infrastructure rollout and its use and impact.
To cut a long story short, councils need adequate decision support tools that provide strategic and operational insights on their EV charge point infrastructure, as well as automation of tedious reporting processes.
Some of these insights are partially provided by the back-office systems of their charge point providers. However, with multiple providers and sometimes conflicting provider incentives it is difficult to access all relevant data in a way that it can be used for better decision-making.
Our data product, CitiesInCharge, provides a coherent view and easy access to such data across multiple charge point provider systems and other relevant data streams.
This allows organizations to gain deeper insights into the operation of their existing charge point infrastructure and better manage the rollout and operations across multiple charge point providers, without creating long-term dependencies or vendor lock-in.
In essence, we are providing an impartial vendor-agnostic tool that puts cities in charge of their public EV charge point infrastructure and the suppliers that they choose to work with.
Do you foresee any obstacles in successfully developing and commercializing your solution?
There are a variety of barriers that hamper the adoption of tools such as ours. We classify them as internal, external and structural barriers.
Internal barriers relate to the readiness of an organisation such as a city or local authority to make use of such a tool, which is often limited by capacity and in-house skills. Although ensuring adequate access to public EV charging should be a key priority for every city across Europe, many cities still lag in adequate resourcing this as an operational area. We are lucky to work with Surrey County Council who are a forward-thinking local authority that really understands the challenges and issues and the value a tool like ours can bring to them.
External barriers relate to external stakeholders such as charge point providers and their willingness to share real-time data with us from their operational infrastructure. If the procurement of public EV charge points is adequately done, data ownership and access can be ensured from day one, leading to fewer complications when it comes to making relevant data available for decision making. Increased transparency is sometimes uncomfortable for system suppliers and not at the top of their priority list.
Finally, the structural barrier relates to access to budgets in this area. A lot of government support and procurement in this area is focused on infrastructure rollout and hardware. There is a need to also consider software and tools as part of this process and to have dedicated budget lines and funding pots assigned to these.