View from India: Smart cities – planning for utopia

October 15th, 2018 no comment

When cities are being laid out, it requires both strategic planning and a sensitive outlook. While it’s important to retain the cultural ethos of the place in a sensitive manner, it’s also necessary to strategically design the layout, taking into account parameters like density of population, road networks with parking and walkways, and last-mile users. These are among the basic essentials of planned urbanisation required to make cities habitable.

“Urban planning can become successful provided cities are designed for its people. It’s also important to preserve the ecosystem as well as create economic opportunities,” said Srinivas M Rao, principal (urban planner) at Kritzinger+Rao Inc, addressing the audience at the CII Smart Mobility Conference.

As against this backdrop, appropriately, the Government of India (GoI) has embarked on the Smart Cities Initiative. These cities will be energy efficient and provide habitable infrastructure using technology, apart from generating local employment and improving the health and living conditions of the people. GoI has chalked out places like Tirupati, Kakinada, Visakhapatnam and Amaravati in the state of Andhra Pradesh under its Smart Cities initiative.

Taking a cue from the national government’s initiative, the Government of Andhra Pradesh (GoAP) has envisaged developing an additional 13 Smart Cities through an integrated infrastructure development. “GoAP aims to promote a pan-city development lifecycle approach. The financial plan for these 13 Smart Cities will open out channels of capital investments for internal and external sources. A hybrid model, the lifecycle project will span over 10-15 years,” added Prakash Gaur, chief executive officer Andhra Pradesh Urban Infrastructure Asset Management Ltd. The scheme will include “safe pedestrian movement, signalised junctions, dedicated designated public spaces and E-bike sharing,” he said. GoAP is in talks with private bike operators to roll out their bikes in Ongole in the Prakasam District of AP. 

Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu, is a significant cultural, economic and educational centre in India, but with rapid urbanisation Chennai has begun to face issues related to urban management. Though there are multi-modal public transits, the inner city traffic tends to clog the roads and junctions during peak office hours, which understandably have become a matter of concern for its people. The Greater Chennai Corporation, the civic body that governs the city, has roped in Chennai Smart City Limited (CSCL) to jointly look at integrated solutions for the transport and traffic challenges. Located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, Chennai’s public spaces and road network in certain localities are being retrofitted.

CSCL, an urban transportation infrastructure planning company, is focusing on the design and optimisation of city transport management services, public bus transportation systems and traffic management services. “Parking management is essential and we need to ensure that vehicles are not parked on footpaths, which are meant for walkers. Then we need to look at footpath vendors: their space needs to be balanced with that of pedestrian movement,” highlighted Raj Cherubal, CEO, Chennai Smart City Company Ltd.  

Coming to parking management, a move has been made in this direction as yellow lines are being laid out to demarcate 12,000 parking slots in various localities in Chennai. With camera surveillance, the paid parking slots will soon be made available through electronic payment. “Parking is a commodity, so if you don’t price it, people won’t take it seriously,” he argued.

CSCL has taken a 360-degree approach towards vehicle management. The company has also opened out vistas for people to move around on bicycles. Around 5,000 bicycles are being made available in 500 locations, complete with GPS tracking, geo-fencing and anti-locking system. E-wallet payment options will be made available. “Chennai has 385 junctions, and this is where it’s crucial to monitor vehicle movement,” he observed. Cherubal’s innovation threshold has widened as he is working on outlining traffic lines for the public buses to move around the city. On the anvil is a smartcard project, which will be used for parking, cycle sharing and traffic lines.

On its part, Fraunhofer India, a leading applied research lab, has entered into memorandum of understanding with Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation (CCMC) to setup a Smart City Innovation Lab. The effort is to address mobility-related challenges in Coimbatore. “We plan to bring in the auto-trams that operate in Germany, as well as creating bicycle lanes and user-friendly footpaths,” explained Anandi Iyer, director Fraunhofer India. Wastewater management will be channelled to proper use through a Water Competence Centre described as Smart Water Future India.

Fraunhofer India has also entered into cooperation with Cochin Smart Missions Ltd to set up a ‘Smart City Innovation Lab’, to transform Cochin into a Smart City through sustainable solutions. “When we look at urban spaces, cities don’t just require individual modular solutions, but a system-based multi-stakeholder approach,” Iyer commented.

Cities block 5G kiosks after doing rival deals

October 12th, 2018 no comment

An E&T investigation has found those authorities with the greatest prospect of making millions of pounds from recent deals with rival comms companies have been most opposed to the BT rollout. They do not take a share of money made from BT’s infrastructure.

Some have refused all attempts BT has made to implement ‘InLink’ phone kiosks as part of its rollout of a national comms network – even though UK planning law does not allow them to oppose it.

UK law gives comms firms special privileges to install network equipment on public streets to stop city planning authorities standing in the way, because network infrastructure is deemed a national priority. It gives city authorities power only to stop equipment being installed in certain places, if they think it would congest a street or be unsightly in a place of historic or natural beauty.

Yet city planners’ opposition to next-generation phone kiosks has been total in places such as the City Of London, which did a deal last year to build a competing infrastructure with BT rivals Telefónica O2 and Vodafone, from which it expected to make £18.5m.

Westminster City Council made a High Court claim for legal powers to refuse phone boxes in September, after it did a deal to make £22m from its own street comms infrastructure, and refused all 24 applications BT had made to install rival comms equipment.

Coventry City Council opposed all 37 BT applications it processed last year, while setting up a competing deal with comms infrastructure provider InTechnology, and like most authorities that have done such deals, kept the financial details secret.

Liverpool City Council refused BT permission to install all 32 InLinks it requested last year, while formulating plans to set up a rival infrastructure.

Other city authorities that blocked BT’s rollout completely or almost entirely were Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Hammersmith & Fulham, Hackney and Kingston-Upon-Thames.

The London Borough of Islington approved all 11 applications BT made in 2017. But after publishing a ‘smart city’ strategy in January, including plans to boost its own street-comms infrastructure and make £2m-a-year, refused all 23 applications BT made in 2018.

Other boroughs apparently without such deals, or old deals approaching the end of their 10-year terms, have typically approved all applications BT has made to install InLinks.

Many city councils struck “concession” deals in the last six years that gave a comms provider exclusive rights to put wireless and mobile ‘small cell’ transmitters on municipal street furniture such as lamp posts. The provider rented its network to mobile phone companies, and the council took a cut.

Councils made the concessions deliver free public Wi-Fi services to main streets as well, and hoped they would cover the cost of laying fibre-optic network cables. But take-up was poor and some councils reported they failed to make money.

BT InLink phone kiosks are built into large panels that display advertising to raise money and cover the cost of its own fibre rollout. BT said it planned to install small cells in its kiosks next year. Its kiosks deliver free public Wi-Fi at 1Gbit/s speeds peak, while users typically get connections at 400Mbit/s.

Duncan Wall, business development director for Arqiva, which did most concession deals with UK cities, said its public Wi-Fi service typically delivered 2Mbit/s speeds. It was trying to increase it to 8Mbit/s.

Financial statements last year by the London Borough of Camden, which helped establish the concession model with Arqiva in 2012, said its ambition to make money from the deal had been made “unachievable” by competition from other sources of free Wi-Fi, and 4G. Camden hoped to make £3.5m from its contract, but it appeared to be losing money. It has appealed to the government for powers to stop BT and other companies installing phone kiosks.

Furqan Alamgir, CEO of Connexin, a firm that installs fibre-based public comms infrastructure in cities including Hull and Newcastle, said providers strove to dominate street comms infrastructure where they operated so they could make enough money to cover their rollout costs.

“For us to have this infrastructure – to spend millions of pounds – we need [exclusivity] or our business model wouldn’t work,” he said.

He said mobile operators preferred doing business with providers who had a dominant network covering a whole city, to make it worth their while.

Dr Edward Oughton, a leading researcher of national 5G infrastructure at the University of Oxford, said if one comms provider built a wireless and small-cell infrastructure and a rival built a network covering the same area, it would undermine their business model.

“Your capital is at risk if another operator comes in and takes the reward,” he said. “It’s going to have a significant impact.”

But he said: “BT are clearly going to scale up so that operators deal with them nationally and it starts to kill off the idea of their being small, regional, small cell providers.”

Professor Steven Temple, a reputed comms expert at the University of Surrey, said: “Wi-Fi is an absolute nightmare. It’s so over-provided they are all grinding each other [out]. All speeds grind down to a crawl.”

A spokesman for the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, which refused most applications BT made to install InLinks last year, said: “Any deal that provides us revenue to pay for frontline services is better than one that doesn’t.”

Hammersmith had been unhappy with BT’s rollout but had limited powers to oppose it, he said. It’s own concession put discreet comms equipment on lamp posts, whereas BT’s kiosks were large and with big screens.

A spokesman for London’s Hackney council said it only opposed phone kiosks when its planning officers felt they would clutter or spoil a street.

Spokespeople for Birmingham and Islington insisted planners considered each application on its merits on terms set by law.

Read more: how the next-gen business model pioneered in New York City hit trouble when it reached the UK


 

 

 

5G street fight

October 12th, 2018 no comment

When the payphone business started collapsing around the turn of the millennium, New York City had to act. It had grown accustomed to making money by licensing call box operators and taking a share of their income, but mobile phones were becoming popular. And payphones were going bust.

The City authority instructed phone booth operators to sell advertising space on their call boxes and give it a share of that revenue, too.

It earned $26m that way in 2000. In the following decade, as 75 per cent of payphones in the US were scrapped, NYC kept its payphone income near $20m. A decade on, its ad income started going up, while its income from phone calls fell to near zero, and half again of all payphones in New York were scrapped.

NYC decided it was time to reinvent the payphone, to make it more of an advertising hoarding with a phone attached. And that is how the next-generation phone kiosk was born. The City would make $500m from call box adverts over the 12-year life of its next licence contract, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in 2014, shortly before awarding it to a consortium that dreamed up a next-gen phone kiosk called LinkNYC.

It wasn’t all about money, though. LinkNYC had been patched together from a medley of visionary designs submitted to a public competition the City held to “reinvent the payphone” in 2013. It embodied the public ethos as well, and ideas NYC had been pushing for around decade: a comms kiosk with a touchscreen web interface and local guides and services. Competition concept drawings imagined 10ft digital panels displaying not ads but sci-fi info-schematics.

Hurricane Sandy clinched the deal in October 2012, shortly after NYC officials defined how the payphone should be reinvented, and ahead of the last payphone contracts reaching the end of their 15-year terms. The old ones had been defamed, since it seemed no-one but vagrants used them anymore. Then Sandy knocked out all but the public phone network and people turned to payphones in their emergency. The reinvented ones would be free, high-speed wireless internet beacons as well, with emergency buttons. And, as de Blasio put it, all at no cost to taxpayers.

NYC could cover the cost with advertising and still take a larger cut. It cited a deal where it allowed a billboard firm to put adverts on municipal street furniture and took half the income. The phone deal it did in 1999 had got a third, and just a dime in every dollar spent on calls.

NYC told potential suppliers in 2012 what a next-gen phone kiosk should be: a slim panel like other street ad hoardings. Switching these with chunky phone boxes, NYC would declutter its streets, make them look smarter, and ease pedestrian flow.

This contrivance of public and private purpose was reflected in the consortium of companies that formed to produce the LinkNYC kiosk. At their heart was Intersection, a corporation formed from the merger of Titan, the largest US billboard operator, and Control Group, a tech studio that had designed public information kiosks for the New York subway. A sister of ad-funded tech giant Google put up money. Qualcomm, the comms equipment maker, along with other tech firms, contributed specialisms.

It was the same kiosk they brought to BT in the UK in 2017. But the business model was not the same at all. Public authorities didn’t control phone boxes in the UK, so they couldn’t make any money out of them. Many have consequently opposed the scheme.


BT had taken call fees from the UK’s classic red phone boxes when it was the national telecoms operator in the latter part of the last century, retaining the right after it was privatised in 1984. Laws held that phone boxes were a public good, so BT should ensure there were enough to meet public need.

That need declined so much last decade that Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, revised the rules to help local public authorities (LAs) stop BT and other operators scrapping phone boxes in places where, for example, poverty was so prevalent that people might depend on them.

Everything had changed by 2017 and LAs found cause to oppose the kiosk produced by NYC.

Smartphones had overloaded mobile phone networks in city centres with high demands for capacity. Comms firms proposed small cells: transmitters distributed along city streets to take strain off major mobile networks. Yet they would need favour from local planning authorities, and a network infrastructure.

Comms companies did deals with LAs to rent spaces on street furniture, such as lamp posts and CCTV columns, already linked with cable ducts. They offered to square public good with private greed in the New York model. LAs would get a cut of the money mobile operators paid to use the network infrastructure. Spare capacity would supply a free public Wi-Fi service, which LAs claimed would bridge the digital divide by ensuring anyone could get internet access, even if they couldn’t afford it. Wi-Fi would be basic and time-limited. Those who wanted more and faster would pay, and LAs would take a cut of that as well.

LAs hoped to make a lot of money. The London Borough of Camden – one of the first to act – was expected to earn £3.5m from a 10-year deal it signed in 2011 with Arqiva, a comms infrastructure firm that subsequently did most such deals. Sixteen other London boroughs joined on its terms. Camden valued the deal at £40m. The group estimated it would raise £20m.

Michael Snaith, a consultant at Regional Network Solutions, who helped engineer the ‘concession’ contract model the LA deals followed, with his colleague Callum Knowles, said they advised on more than 40.

“The aspiration was public Wi-Fi,” he says, “but the driver was: ‘We have these assets – how much can you pay for them?’.”

It became a problem, he said, that LAs thought it would be a “major income earner”, while the contractors promised too much. Camden’s income projection for its 2011 deal had become “unachievable”, it said last year, “due to the rising prevalence of other sources of free Wi-Fi and the availability of 4G”.

Officials in London’s Hammersmith & Fulham borough said in February they were renegotiating the 2013 Wi-Fi deal they did with Arqiva because it had underachieved. Another deal to rent council cable ducts for networking might be abandoned.

Southampton City Council cancelled its 2013 Arqiva concession, according to a director who asks not to be named. “It wasn’t delivering what we hoped. Take-up was almost nil. There was too much contention in the area. You have to stand extremely close to a transmitter if you are to avoid competing signals from surrounding shops and mobile,” he says. That contention was from Wi-Fi in places such as coffee shops.

Other LAs had similar problems. “The old market square is a very congested radio environment, with multiple Wi-Fi services being pushed out by shops,” says John Connelly, digital infrastructure manager at Nottingham City Council, which agreed a concession with BT in 2015.

“When BT did the initial survey, they told us there are lots of signals competing. And when signals compete, they knock each other out. With the contention, if you have 50 people near an access point, all trying to get on the system, it’s more difficult for the cell.

“It depends on the number of access points you have. The more you have, the better the service,” says Connelly.

BT addressed this in plans to install Wi-Fi in Glasgow, according to documents held by the City Council. It showed how LAs could spread uninterrupted Wi-Fi over central streets if they combined transmitters in phone kiosks with those BT put on lamp and CCTV posts under a concession it agreed with Glasgow in 2014.

Where neighbouring transmitters do not collaborate they contest, say public officials. David Oliver, solution architect for a Wi-Fi service Sheffield City Council set up last year under a 10-year concession, says it will not deliver a seamless service with InLinks BT is installing in the city as well. People would either log in to one or the other, or their phones might switch between them if they were subscribed to both, depending on which had the stronger signal.

Sheffield’s Wi-Fi signal has a 30Mbit/s capacity with blanket coverage, says Oliver. He has tried to find out from other LAs what is the typical speed of free public Wi-Fi, and thinks it is probably less than 10Mbit/s.

Paul Neville, digital director at Waltham Forest, says its concession delivers 4Mbit/s  Wi-Fi, but the authority is working with Arqiva to double it.

Capacity makes all the difference when facing contention, and the underlying network determines the capacity, according to Nottingham’s Connelly.

BT has claimed InLinks deliver free Wi-Fi at 1Gbit/s speeds, based on a fibre network it puts in when it installs them in choice spots on its old payphone network, with the cost of the rollout covered by advertising.

LAs, government and concessionaires have all been striving to build fibre networks. Tower Hamlets, another London borough, made fibre a condition of the concession it sought to establish this year, with the cost to be covered by mobile phone operators who paid to use the network. It reckoned on making £3.5m on the deal.

LAs did not give up on concessions after the first deals failed. Nor did they abandon the idea of making money from them.

‘It’s not a failure. It’s an evolution. Because local authorities have released the assets, they have played an enabling role in the digital agenda.’

Michael Snaith, Regional Network Solutions

The City of London, authority for the financial district, reckoned it would make £18.5m from a concession it let last year to Cornerstone, a firm joint-owned by mobile operators Telefonica O2 and Vodafone.

Mobile operators’ demand for small cells is reportedly uncertain. Their 4G services were notoriously late rolling out. But the delivery of 5G mobile broadband phones in 2020 is planned initially for city centres where it could be economically viable to distribute the small cells required to support them.

Westminster City Council reckons it will make £22m from a 10-year deal it struck this year with Ontix Ltd, an unknown start-up.

Other LAs setting up similar deals in the last 12 months include Liverpool, Coventry, Kingston and Hackney. Most of them opposed BT’s InLink rollout by refusing all planning applications it made to install them. Whereas those LAs that had no such deal or had not recently reset them typically granted every InLink BT requested. Others, such as Southwark and Lambeth, have opposed significant numbers of InLinks while setting up deals of their own.

By examining records of 45 LAs where BT sought to install InLinks, and others significant by their concession deals or their being London boroughs, E&T found a confluence between self-interest and opposition to InLink.

E&T viewed the records of more than 1,000 InLink planning decisions, as well as contract records, elected council proceedings and cabinet and committee papers where public authorities set out multi-million-pound deals with comms companies. Most of them kept the financial details from public view.

Their opposition was based on legitimate reasons under planning law, according to their own records. UK planning rules give comms companies special rights to install network equipment on the basis of there being a great public need for it. They must still make applications for each bit of equipment. LAs can oppose only the particular places where comms companies seek to put it, so they have some say over where it goes and how it looks, but the law forbids them blocking a network installation.

It forbade them blocking the BT rollout, yet many claimed InLinks were impractical in every location BT proposed, forcing BT to pursue its rollout in appeals before the planning ombudsman.

Westminster took its opposition to the High Court in August, claiming phone boxes were such a nuisance that it should have power to refuse them. It chose for its contention an application by New World Payphones, another next-gen phone kiosk company previously owned by Arqiva.

The latter created coverage in Camden by combining access points on its kiosks with those on municipal furniture. Phone kiosks were likewise part of a concession bid it made in Waltham Forest last year.

Yet Camden wrote a public letter last month to Kit Malthouse, the government minister for housing and planning, asking for power to refuse kiosks when it believed there was no need. InLink UK, on the other hand, lobbied the London Mayor in March, begging power to stop LAs blocking its rollout because it had plans to put 5G cells in them.

Bristol City Council, which has licensed use of its street furniture to its ‘Bristol is Open’ joint venture with the University of Bristol, refused all 25 InLink applications this year. It has put £25.3m of government funding into the deal. Then last year it agreed a £5m street-advertising concession with JCDecaux, granting it spots on main roads where both ad-based kiosks and small-cell contractors vie for space. That is another form of concession LAs pursue. Camden had proposed forbidding its own concessionaire from displaying advertisements in order to protect revenue from its street advertising concessions.

Southwark said last year it might do a deal for JCDecaux to upgrade its billboards with Wi-Fi, while it prepared to put 5G small cells in street furniture. Islington was putting hotspots in benches. LAs up and down the country have been drawing up ‘smart city’ plans for networked street furniture and small-cell concessions. The reinvented phone kiosk has not appeared in their plans.

Snaith says LAs were losing interest in free Wi-Fi, while some contractors believe their concessions have been a waste of time.

Reflecting on the generation of concession deals that LAs did on the NYC model, which Camden took up in 2012, Snaith insists they did not fail.

“Some people would say they were a failure,” he says. “It’s not a failure. It’s an evolution. Because local authorities released the assets, they have played an enabling role in the digital agenda.”


InLink planning applications UK map

Image credit: E&T


InLink planning applications London map

Image credit: E&T

Nissan and EDF partner on energy storage and more

October 11th, 2018 no comment

Both EDF Energy and Nissan have been active in developing the market for electric vehicles and will bring substantial technical expertise to the wide-ranging agreement, which also covers future collaboration across smart charging, batteries, decentralised generation and grid integration.

The first joint project will see the partners explore the business case for recycling retired batteries from the Nissan Leaf into commercial battery storage. The system would see electricity stored in the batteries and released back to the grid using EDF Energy’s PowerShift platform to react quickly to demand-side response (DSR) initiatives. Storage systems offer a lower-carbon solution than relying on coal and gas power stations to meet peaks of electricity demand on the grid.

The combined system will be trialled to see how it can support on-site generation, greater control and flexibility over energy use and provide additional revenue streams.

EDF Energy is Nissan’s long-term UK supplier. The EDF PowerShift platform has been developed for businesses that are able to shift or reduce electricity consumption from the grid in times of peak demand or system stress.

Announcing the initiative, the companies pointed out that there are now more lithium-ion batteries being installed in electric vehicles than into consumer electronics. Over time, millions of used electric vehicle batteries are expected to become available for the energy storage market. These batteries have as much as 70 per cent of their original capacity and will still have more than 10 years of remaining life.

Beatrice Bigois, managing director of customers at EDF Energy, said: “The transition to electric vehicles provides huge opportunities for businesses and households, which is why we are investing in the best technology and products to help consumers and business realise the associated benefits.”

Francisco Carranza, director of energy services, Nissan Europe, added: “We are delighted to be entering this partnership to support the expanding electric vehicle market and help create a more sustainable energy future in the UK. We believe electric cars are just the start, and our second life programme ensures batteries from our cars continue to provide energy storage capacity in other applications – in houses, businesses, football stadiums even – long after their life in cars. We look forward to working closely with EDF Energy on these developments in future.”

Nissan builds the all-electric LEAF at its car plant in Sunderland. The firm announced in August that it is selling its EV battery production operations in Sunderland and Tennessee to the Chinese sustainable energy business Envision.

Nissan has previously explored the latent energy potential of EV batteries, testing the first vehicle-to-grid (V2G) trial in the UK in 2016. This saw energy stored in the batteries of electric cars ceded back to the National Grid, in a V2G trial that was a joint effort between Nissan and energy company Enel, using 100 electric cars installed with the technology and connected to the grid.

At the end of 2015, Nissan also put forward a scheme whereby retired EV batteries could be used to power homes and businesses, via a joint venture between the Japanese car company and power management specialist Eaton.

Better home insulation is key to lowering UK carbon emissions, report finds

October 11th, 2018 no comment

The UK is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050, relative to 1990 levels.

Energy used in UK homes currently accounts for about 20 per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions and three-quarters of that comes from heating and hot water.

The report states that 80 per cent of the homes people will inhabit in 2050 have already been built, meaning it is not possible to rely on new builds alone to meet legal energy-saving targets set in the 2008 Climate Change Act.

It recommends the development of a national programme of “deep” retrofits to make homes zero carbon; this would see them fitted with highly insulated cladding and new roofs with integrated solar panels, double or triple glazing and clean heat pumps replacing boilers.

Pilot schemes suggest the whole retrofit could take just 15 days, with people able to stay in their homes during the process.

Rick Hartwig, IET Built Environment Lead, said: “New and innovative products will always assist in reducing costs and improving energy performance, but sufficient work has already been done in research and pilot studies, to show that massively reducing the carbon emissions and energy requirements of current housing is achievable and needs to be done. Retrofitting has other benefits too, making cold homes warmer, healthier and reducing bills.

“There is considerable practical experience in financing deep retrofit projects, managing them, and engaging with the householders. We need to build on that experience to create a national retrofit programme to deliver our 2050 goals. This will not only help drive demand but allow greater scale to cut the costs per property.

“Local Authority and Housing Association homes account for 17 per cent, approximately 4.5 million, of UK homes. It is the logical place to start scaling up demand for retrofit and driving down costs.”

Much of the existing housing stock is insufficiently insulated and has heating and hot water supplied by polluting gas-fired boilers that will have to go in order to meet the target.

The report also suggests that the NHS could save up to £1.4bn a year in treatments for conditions arising from bad housing.

Current efforts to upgrade energy efficiency, such as loft insulation and more efficient gas boilers, are “incremental” changes that will not do enough.

Dr Richard Miller, director of Miller-Klein Associates and lead author of the report, said: “We are going to have to dramatically cut the heat demand in the country, particularly domestically, and then decarbonise what’s left.

“We have to treat existing homes, and that means ‘deep retrofit’, going to zero carbon for heating and doing it in one jump, the whole-house approach that tackles the whole problem in one go.”

The Factfile ‘Scaling Up Retrofit 2050’ can be downloaded free from the IET website.

Tall storeys: building super-slender skyscrapers for residential use

October 10th, 2018 no comment

‘Slender’ and ‘super-slender’ skyscrapers that have arisen across New York’s most exclusive thoroughfares provide luxurious pads for those of far from slender means: Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell reportedly paid $100.5m for the two-storey penthouse of the 75-storey, 306m-high One 57 (aka the ‘Billionaire Building’) at 157 West 57th Street in Midtown Manhattan.

These new towers, some standing on footprints as narrow as 14m, offer more than just ritzy residences with upmarket zip codes. Their slenderness guarantees spatial exclusivity – rarely more than two apartments per level – and dazzling vistas of the Big Apple. “More than anything, their location is predicated on views of Central Park,” says Carol Willis, founder/director/curator at the Skyscraper Museum. “In New York views have value, and the gold standard is Central Park.”

The prospect of living in such edifices might seem so much pie-in-the-sky musing for the unmoneyed masses. But cities the world over face increasing demand for residential buildings that can use parcels of space too small for traditional apartment blocks. Building tall and thin has previously presented too many challenges to make them economically viable, but now these vertical enclaves – funded from the expectation of assured purchases by rich buyers – could become the shape of high-rise living to come.

“As land becomes scarcer in our cities, developers search for ways to innovatively accommodate growing communities within reach of existing infrastructure,” says Jeff Brown, principal at architects Rothelowman. “Expensive to create and commercialise, slender towers must achieve tight feasibility width-to-height ratios in excess of 1:12, despite highly-complex wind loadings, planning, engineering and site-specific matters – [a combination of factors] often enough to put off [all but] those with the deepest pockets.” Deep pockets are necessary because slender skyscrapers incur high development and build expenses: One 57, for instance, cost $1.5bn.

“Super-slender towers are expensive to build. It took a New York price platform of $3,000 per-square-foot to start to make their basic economics work,” says Willis. “Top prices for the first-completed 57th Street slender towers have already achieved $9,000 to $11,000 per square foot.”

When prices reached this level, slender skyscrapers started to present attractive return-on-investment possibilities for property developers in New York. The last five years has seen a spate of ever-taller slender-build projects including Madison Park Square Tower (237m), 50 West Street (237m), 111 Murray Street (241m), 56 Leonard Street (250m), 53W53 (290m), 220 Central Park South (290m), 9 DeKalb Avenue (310m), 432 Park Avenue (426m), and 111 West 57th Street (435m) – all heights as currently planned.

Rising a stack of apartments up to 90 storeys to heights of up to 300 metres on ground that measures one-twelfth of the total height has set challenges for architects, engineers and construction services experts. Slender high-rises have pioneered design and construction techniques that architects and structural engineers expect to apply to more modest slender residential developments.

The build challenges start with width-to-height ratios. A building’s ‘slenderness’ is an engineering definition. It refers not only to the total height of a skyscraper, but to its (base) width-to-height ratio – the quotient between the width of a building (its widest point at ground level) and its top roof height.

Although used as a defining metric, slenderness ratios can prove imprecise calculations, says Skyscraper Museum’s Willis, because the bases and shafts can be of variable widths as the building rises – they might go thinner at the uppermost levels for architectural, structural or economic reasons. Skyscrapers with a minimum 1:10-1:12 ratio are called ‘slender’. Those with the highest width-to-height ratios – such as 111 West 57th Street, due to complete in 2021, which, at 435m on a base of 18m, will have one of about 1:23-1:24 – are ‘super-slender’.

Slender-scale ratios also define limits on the sizes of apartments they can contain, Willis adds: “Small floor plates – as small as 223 square metres and generally no larger than 743m2 – create the ideal conditions to limit apartments to one or two units per storey.” This lends exclusivity and minimises the number of communal lifts that take up internal space.

Architects compensate for the relative compactness by designing apartments with lofty ceilings of around 4.7 metres – another reason why slender high-rises have to reach for the sky. The prevailing design aesthetic of slenders is not predominantly stylistic, Willis says: “The facade treatment can be a continuous glass membrane or a masonry curtain wall with punch-out windows. The structural system can range from internal shear walls and mega-columns to an exterior bearing wall, to structural expressionism.”

‘The technology to deliver spectacular constructions already exists. In the hands of ambitious and collaborative clients, architects and engineers, complexity can be simplified and delivered at standard prices by working through the design and engineering from first principles.’

Andrew Watts, Newtecnic

Slender skyscrapers are highly-customised buildings. Unlike conventional high-rises for residential or commercial use, there is often a limited amount of big block know-how that can be redeployed for these new towers.

Aerodynamics is a more important factor with tall, thin structures than it is with more conventionally dimensioned towers: strong winds cause them to sway. Slender skyscraper exteriors are hard-tested in wind tunnels to see how well the facades and other architectural features react to issues like ‘vortex shedding’ – the oscillating flow that takes place when air or water flows past a bluff body (a feature that, due to its shape, has separated flow over a large part of its surface) at certain velocities.

Changes to the aerodynamics of features such as ledges and corners can reduce the potential impact wind contact has on a tower’s superstructure. Air current issues are important as the taller and thinner a tower, the more it will sway. Swaying effects grow towards the top and residents who have paid a premium to live up high will feel the most movement.

Holes, notches and slots are variously designed into corners and facade turns. A design feature of the plainly-rectangular 432 Park Avenue, intended to reduce the effects of swaying due to wind vortex loading, is that the window grid and interior space of two floors between every 12 occupied storeys were left open to allow the wind to pass through. These floors also contain modularised mechanical services for the six storeys above and below, to reduce ductwork runs. The five open levels add to the skyscraper’s illumination scheme after dark.

“Digital simulation using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) can simulate the effect of worst-case and general wind load on built structures,” explains Andrew Watts, CEO at building engineering specialist Newtecnic. “We use it to avoid turbulence around the structure, and to break up eddies – both of which produce noise and stress to building components.”

Wind tunnel tests on architectural prototypes usually take place in the kind of facilities used to test aircraft aerodynamics, but technology is catching up. Rustem Baishev, architect at RB Systems, anticipates interactive wind tunnel testing techniques, which, by using actuators inside of a flexible envelope, allow adjustments to be made to the shape of a tower while it is inside the tunnel. “That way you get to see immediate results, as opposed to [going through an] iterative process,” Baishev explains.

Digital simulation, however, is still not yet advanced enough to avoid physical wind tunnel tests, says Watts: “The next generation of software may eliminate physical testing, but currently they are necessary to validate CFD results.”

Dampers are another technology deployed to counteract sway and impose additional stability. These are massive units that work like counterweights installed near the top of some slender skyscrapers. Tuned mass dampers (TMDs) are engineered to adjust their positions slightly when sensors tell them the building is moving. Another kind, tuned sloshing dampers (TSDs), are vast containers of water that help absorb vibrations.

Tuned mass damping is passive technology that is tuned to swing at approximately the same rate as the building’s natural frequency. The TMD physically ‘pulls’ on the building and dissipates energy associated with sway vibrations. At 432 Park Avenue, damper specialist RWDI installed an opposed-pendulum design that reduced the vertical space required by slowing the swing rate of the TMD while maintaining the same internal ‘pull’ on the structure.

To fit the TMD into the constrained available space atop the 85-storey tower, RWDI divided the required 1,200-ton mass into two 600-ton TMDs, one located on either side of the building’s core. The TMDs were configured so that each has two conventional pendulums on either side of an inverted pendulum, allowing the TMD to swing at a slower rate but with sufficient force for required building stability.

As premium-value habitats, slender skyscrapers must maximise the available interior space. But because they have much less floor area to be structurally supported, there is less need for the steel frame grids that characterised conventional high-rise models for decades. Structural support more likely comes from the building’s exterior rather than an internal matrix of interconnected steel. As far as possible, weighty building management mechanical apparatus (lift engines, plumbing, electricals) are based on upper storeys for extra wind-counteracting stability.

Building engineers experiment with composite structures that combine high-strength steel and concrete in innovative ways to find the right balance of strength and flexibility. Where builders were limited in the past, stronger materials mean they can build taller while maintaining the same-size structural elements. Recent formulations of concrete’s chemical composition – such as addition of industrial by-products like fly ash, leftover microsilica (spheres of silicon dioxide), pulverised fuel ash and steel slag – make it more rigid, robust enough to support heavier loads.

Like other fields of architecture and structural design, slender skyscrapers are customarily designed using computer modelling tools that enable architects to refine their designs in accordance with both logistical considerations as they are discovered, and budgetary limits. Advances in modelling technology itself will play a part in a move toward enabling slender skyscrapers to be built on sites previously deemed unsuitable for high-rise structures, predicts Baishev at RB Systems.

“Some multi-objective optimisation software workflows in programming [in architecture the term describes composition of contents of a building in response to set typology] of a tower and in designing of its structural concepts, as well as of its facades, are in wide use already,” he says, “but [as yet] are still largely set up and controlled by humans. A mutual interest in an initiative could unite experts in creating a knowledge base for a wider involvement of artificial intelligence in the process, but skyscraper projects are budgeted scrupulously and those who commission them are not always willing to wait or experiment, therefore this idea – although great – might take time.”

According to Newtecnic’s Watts, to construct new slender buildings at low cost requires those who commission buildings to “become more demanding of engineers. The technology to deliver spectacular constructions exists. In the hands of ambitious and collaborative clients, architects and engineers, complexity can be simplified and delivered at standard prices by working through the design and engineering from first principles.”

Further challenges come from the limitations of construction technology, says Baishev, where slender towers are being built with cranes and construction rigs designed for larger-scale high-rise constructions: “For instance, typically, the cranes are located inside of elevator shafts; in slender towers there are fewer shafts and thinner cores, so the cranes’ robustness and operations might need to be improved.”

Case study

Istanbul’s Küçük Çamlıca TV Tower

Although slender towers to date have been mainly residential projects, the lessons learned are being explored by other tall building use-cases. Istanbul’s highest building – the just-completed 365m-high Küçük Çamlıca TV Radio Tower (KCTV) – is a £36m structure by Melike Altinisik Architects that features facades design-engineered by building engineering specialist Newtecnic.

“The complexity and cost of building towers of this height usually means that they have accommodation only at the top,” says Andrew Watts, CEO at Newtecnic. “The load-bearing structure of KCTV’s tower is a concrete tube, with constant geometry throughout its height. Using specially-developed computer algorithms we devised a design that allows lightweight pre-fabricated glass-reinforced concrete (GRC) panels to be attached all the way up the central column.”

Newtecnic developed a facade concept that allows inhabitable spaces to be attached to the whole of the tower’s core – an unconventional development for buildings of this kind where core internal space is required for technological equipment, leaving no space for other uses, such as paying visitors.

These spaces hang like a curtain and are securely clipped to the main central core to create large interiors, Watts explains: “The envelope system was designed to reduce installation time and uses a newly-developed method that integrates thin GRC rainscreen panels, stiffened by a steel frame. This is fixed directly to a backing wall that incorporates integrated glazed openings.”

The algorithms provided the data that enabled Newtecnic to understand and engineer solutions around the relationships between building components and environmental factors such as gravity, seismic activity, temperature and positive/negative wind pressure.

Costs of materials and processes are also incorporated through the algorithms, which helps reduce project risk and increases cost control.

The KCTV tower, which hosts 125 broadcasting transmitters, was wind-tunnel tested. This allowed Newtecnic to develop accurately sized facade components from the first stage studies. It also provided the data to optimise the envelope build-up and obtain an accurate understanding of the impact of the facade loads on the structural behaviour of the concrete structure.

Hands-on review: Optoma LH160 portable LED projector

October 9th, 2018 no comment

This LED projector isn’t significantly smaller than non-portable models, but it’s not trying to be a pocketable ‘pico’ projector. Instead it promises top quality on the move. The 1500 lumens brightness and 1080p full high-definition resolution are comparable to most of today’s popular home cinema and business projectors. But the rechargeable LH160 works anywhere, indoors and out, with a respectable battery life of two and a half hours.

We mention business and pleasure in one breath because the LH160’s portability means it does double duty. Buy it for work but make good use of it at the weekend too? We tested it in a remote Cornwall holiday cottage which has never been home to a television, let alone a projector.

It’s the size of a couple of hardback books (278 x 191 x 54mm) and weighs in at 2.2 kg, plus there’s an external power supply and a small remote control. It’s black, curvy and discrete. Inputs include two HDMIs and two USBs. One of the USB ports lets you add an optional Wi-Fi dongle (£30) so that you can connect your source wirelessly too. This is done via the Optoma HDCast Pro app.

Controls, on the projector itself and the remote, are straightforward. The sliding lens cover also doubles as a simple way to power the projector on and off.

We tested the projector’s picture quality with a Blu-ray played through a PlayStation 4 (which happens to have a similar footprint, so the projector sits neatly on top of it). We connected the two via HDMI.

The picture quality was surprisingly good – sharp and bright – even though we projected on a white plastered wall rather than a screen. The Optoma boots up with a simple menu, all we had to do was select the source.

The only frustration was the fixed throw ratio of 1.2:1. So if you have a screen or section of wall in mind then the projector’s precise position is dictated to you. There’s no wiggle room.

Picture setup and correction options are impressive, starting with the physical. There’s a screw thread underneath for tripod mounting and also two different heights of kickstand underneath. Then digitally, you can correct the projected image to make it square, with +/- 30 degrees of vertical keystone correction and +/- 20 degrees of horizontal keystone correction. There’s no lens shift.

The built-in speakers are loud and clear enough for a family movie night and the lack of cables to trip over was very welcome. The fan isn’t too loud. Bluetooth allows you to connect the projector to a wireless speaker. But it doesn’t offer wireless connection to smartphones and tablets: these can instead be screen-mirrored using a USB cable or hooked up wirelessly using direct Wi-Fi.


Downloading and setting up the free Optoma HDCast Pro app was painless and fast. The whole process only took around five minutes. The projector’s Wi-Fi Display menu talks you through it and gives you the password, so you can connect the phone directly to the projector via Wi-Fi settings. Once it’s connected, the app lets you select documents or photos to display, use the phone camera live or simply mirror whatever’s on the phone screen.

The quality of documents such as PDFs was very impressive projected against a white wall. Text was crisp and readable and the bright image means you don’t need a dark room to use it. Standard Microsoft Office document types are supported, so you can do without a laptop.

It’s very compelling: even showing photos is immediately much more enjoyable when everyone can see them properly. And when it’s behaving well there is no time lag. But we found that the Wi-Fi connection between phone and projector regularly became unstable, even though they were just inches apart, and this became frustrating. The lesson being that you’d always want to have a USB cable in your back pocket to hook up the phone, in case the Wi-Fi tech lets you down.

But you probably had a USB cable for your phone with you anyway. So the Optoma’s rechargeable, go anywhere, project anywhere promise stands thanks to its bright, sharp picture and modest size.

£1,000 optoma.co.uk

Alternatives

BenQ GS1

A portable, rechargeable (3 hour battery life) LED 720p high definition projector positively aimed at outdoorsy types, with IPX1 splash-proof certification and a drop-proof rubber case. Brightness is 300 lumens.

£600 benq.eu

Philips PicoPix GO 5110

Don’t expect a whole movie from the 70-minute battery life, but this 100 lumens pico standard definition projector only measures 102x102x25mm and includes a built-in speaker and Wi-Fi. Perfect for pocketable presentations.

£300 philips.co.uk

Aiptek iBeamBlock

An unusual triple play: mini Windows 10 tablet, projector and power bank in one. 400 lumens brightness, 720p resolution high definition projector and 2-hour battery life. All together just 125x95x67mm.

£630 aiptek.de

The Happy House Of Horrors

October 9th, 2018 no comment

The huge dark oak doors creak open, casting a shaft of light across alarming and obscene gargoyles. The aroma of dust, mould and decay heightens the sense that something is amiss as you step through the door. The gloomy hallway is adorned with relics from the Middle Ages; the pattern on the threadbare carpet looks like it has been worn away by the footsteps of the suits of armour that line the walls.

What next? An axe murderer? A vengeful ghost? Whatever it is, the lighting, the atmosphere, the very design of the building itself has set a scene of foreboding; the rest of the work is down to instinct and imagination.

Wayne Lennox does not want his property to look inviting. Or at least he wants people to come, but he also wants them to feel frightened. As creative director of a new attraction, House of Horror, Lennox has redesigned a disused spa in Essex to give visitors an enjoyably horrific experience. The more practical design challenge was to create a natural flow through the building’s 13 zones that would not exhaust the paying victims; people are prepared to pay to be scared witless, but baulk at walking too far.

Each room has a theme, such as Sci-Fi-Die, Krow Killers or Medical Madness, all of which are connected by a storyline. It is described by Lennox as: “a 4D immersive experience, in which you live out your worst nightmares; your worst nightmares are embedded in your brain from watching movies or sometimes from real-life experiences.” Some 30 actors are being employed to provide the scares.

“Everyone is scared of something different,” says Lennox. “You might be scared of clowns holding balloons, or dark shadows in the woods. I tried to tick the box of most of the scare scenarios that people have,” he adds, cheerfully.

These scenarios are reinforced by adding stimuli for other senses, most notably smell and touch. A séance room, for example, uses musty-smelling Victorian furniture, while the medical zone is modelled to evoke the sharper, more clinical environment of the hospital.

While Lennox has used these tricks of the trade to make his house packed with tension and emotional discomfort, of course the majority of designers are out to create the opposite effect.

Buildings are usually designed to be bright, happy places and that begins with our very first impressions.

“The outside is perhaps more to do with context and expression,” says Dr Nigel Oseland, environmental psychologist and senior lecturer at UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering. “The building can be used to reflect or make a statement about the occupier, or be iconic or even artistic. The exterior is an outward expression to the outside world whereas the interior is inward facing to the occupants. But of course most want the building to be inviting, depending on its use and occupier.”

Using our subtle senses is just as important as with the less subtle House of Horror, says Oseland: “A few of us have a saying: ‘architects design with their eyes’; we are trying to educate them about the other senses.” Anyone who has walked into a house-buying situation and been hit by the waft of freshly baked bread or real coffee knows that we are all susceptible to comforting aromas.

“Odours are the sense most connected to memory and emotion, so be careful of office smells,” continues Oseland. “Sound also has an emotional link and we know the effect of noise on people differs by their personality. Basically, introverts prefer calmer environments whereas extroverts fare better – and may even seek – stimulation through noise, colour, light and so on.”

Companies such as Air Aroma will scent an office environment through the air conditioning to provide air free from pollutants and unpleasant odours, providing benefits, it says, for staff health, safety and well-being. It claims: “Studies found there was an astonishing 54 per cent reduction in clerical error when workers were exposed to lemon oils.”

When it comes to designing innovative buildings Ian Ritchie, of Ian Ritchie Architects, is in no doubt about where to start: “Light is the first material of architecture. It is the opium of the architect and shadow its form. Light can render space spooky or wonderful.  The other crucial aspect is understanding the nature of how the building will be used, and the degree of spatial adaptability that needs to be built into the design. To achieve this understanding takes time up front, listening and getting to know the type of building user through genuine exchange over design issues.”

Those customer requirements can vary from simple building function to more prescriptive work practices, but developing them into an optimised design takes skill; get it right and you have a happy working environment, get it wrong and you could  create an instinctive reaction in the workers akin to that of the haunted house.

Oseland comments: “Evolutionary psychology is an interesting field. There are certain things in design that can cause an innate evolutionary response and may be unnerving. For example, we don’t like people looking over our shoulder; on the plains we like to see out, a vista, and sit against a tree or rock for protection.” So when designing an office, don’t arrange desks so people have their backs against the circulation route, regardless of how space efficient it may be.

“Complete quiet is also unnerving, as it tends to mean danger in the wild,” continues Oseland. “We prefer a background sound level similar to that found in nature. Natural sounds like birdsong and water are also more calming and re-energising than mechanical sounds. We are also inquisitive and social animals, so allow people to move around, explore and socialise over coffee, and so on.”

Ritchie takes that process further; we need to actively like our buildings. “Pride in the place where you work, play or live is psychologically important,” he says. “Each culture has its own design nuances drawn from history. Some are acceptable for a period; grey metal pylons were fine when bringing electricity in the 1930s; they became unacceptable only 50 years later when electrical supply was a given. The Eiffel Tower, in contrast, was considered hideous when built, but is now the pride and joy of the French. Understanding how aesthetics and taste evolve, and why, is an aspect of design to consider in any given culture.”

However, ignoring the transient produce of fashionable design, the original premise of both Ritchie and Oseland is that the atmosphere within a building is simply a reflection of how comfortable a person is within it. “Many times, this comes down to proportions and scale,” says Andy Payne, architect and a principal research engineer at Autodesk, providers of architectural CAD software.

“Buildings have many standard dimensions that most of us take for granted. The height of a staircase or the width of a doorway, for example, each have standard dimensions that make it easy for us to move from one space to another, or even one building to another, and maintain a sense of familiarity. When we begin to deviate from these parameters, it elevates our uncertainty and general discomfort. In some cases, this might be a designers’ intent. Scale and proportion, along with other tools such as lighting and colour choices, can be orchestrated in such a way so as to produce a specific mood or atmosphere.”

Software can be automated to establish rules and prevent certain proportions drifting uncomfortably. It is easy to generate warnings to tell the architect if the design parameters have deviated outside of the proscribed norms or generate a design that would be otherwise unsafe. Simulation or other numerical methods can be used to determine if a design will fit within the design criteria.

There are limits to how much a computer can be relied on for the design. Payne continues: “Is the colour of a wall the right colour to produce a given mood or effect? That is a much more difficult question for a computer to answer. For this reason, we strive to create software tools that act as a type of synergistic companion to the designer; one that is capable of making recommendations or suggestions on how to improve a design, but one that still relies on the designer to validate that certain design decisions are correct.”

After all, if CAD could be relied on for optimal building design, all buildings would look the same and architects’ imaginations would be a worthless commodity. Fortunately we are not at that stage and art and science can combine to produce beautiful – and happy – buildings.

House of Horror is open until 31 October 2019

Interview with Diego Pavia, CEO of EIT InnoEnergy

October 8th, 2018 no comment

Over the next decade, what opportunities will arise in European energy innovation?

The main challenges and opportunities that we have in front of us in energy come from the systemic view [of energy supply and distribution]*. The interface between different companies in the value chain: that is where innovation will come from, and what we gain in terms of economy and service for the user. In that sense, [energy] storage is a game changer; it links production to the grid.

The systemic view is where Europe has opportunity; China and others will be extremely good at improving their turbines or whatever, but in the systemic view we are unbeatable and you cannot create that overnight.

*Applying systemic thinking – which takes into consideration the relations between components in a complex network to optimise its efficiency, reliability and sustainability – to the energy supply industry.

How does EIT InnoEnergy encourage companies to take a more collaborative and systemic approach to energy supply?

We build an ecosystem of around 400 partners that cover all the value chain and the innovation chain, so you can find who you need upstream and downstream. It’s a trust ecosystem, so whether you are a big blue-chip guy or a small guy – a big national grid with a tiny entrepreneur – you’re on equal footing with trust brought by the [EIT] rules.

What puts Europe in such a good position to develop systemic energy networks?

Europeans! We are always looking at the links between each other and that is in the DNA, in the culture, in the education, in the family life. It’s about looking at the wider society and not at my own shoes! We are unique in the world as Europeans. Look at the Americans: they are specialists, but when it comes to systems, look at the grid in the States – it is chaotic and outages are extremely frequent.

How can the EIT contribute to the climate mitigation effort with regards to energy?

The climate endeavour is for everybody […] but the B2B change will happen as regulations oblige businesses to adapt. On the B2C side, it is our responsibility [as individual citizens]. It’s about your behaviour, it’s about which car you’re going to buy, it’s about how many home appliances you have on. Citizens are not observers.

How can you encourage responsible consumer behaviour?

The way we [will] do that is not to talk to your rational brain; we talk to your emotional brain. That is why you change your behaviour. [Attractive] pricing is very nice, but you are not buying your iPhone because of that. I mean, it costs 1,000 bucks! It’s your emotional brain talking to you. In energy, has anybody done this in the past? No, nobody.

UK homes getting smarter with increased connectivity and entertainment

October 3rd, 2018 no comment

The survey revealed there were 336 brands offering 3,777 smart home products in the UK over a 12-month period to April 2018, an increase of 30 per cent year-on-year.

85 per cent of the UK’s online population now own at least one smart product, while the proportion owning four or more has grown from 35 per cent last year to 44 per cent this year.

The most commonly owned devices are smart routers, smart TVs, smart meters, fitness and activity trackers, and smart set-top boxes. The fastest growing product in the last year was interactive speakers, where ownership doubled between 2017 and 2018.

GfK’s research indicates that routers and smart TVs tend to be gateway products, while smart lighting and thermostats are chosen by those who already own a portfolio of other smart home products.

Trevor Godman, divisional director at GfK commented, “Take-up of smart home products in the UK continues to rise, with interactive speakers the hot product of the last year. In contrast however, the level of consumer excitement about smart home as a category has lost momentum somewhat – particularly for smart appliances and smart health products.  As smart home pivots to the mass market, it is essential that manufacturers look at what is holding consumers back and communicate compelling benefits that capture consumers’ imaginations.”

High levels of smart TV ownership, and the rapid take up of smart speakers, illustrate GfK’s findings that Britons are most attracted to smart products in the areas of entertainment and connectivity. 20 per cent of the UK online population cited this area as having the most appealing products or solutions, followed by security and control (14 per cent), and smart energy and lighting (13 per cent). Smart health appeals to 10 per cent and smart appliances to 8 per cent. Smart entertainment is the only category to see an increase in its appeal since 2017.

Many of the top smart products fall into the home control and security category, with products that people are actively planning to buy, or say they are interested in buying, including smoke and gas detectors, energy meters, lighting and light control, thermostats and energy management, alarm systems and IP security cameras.

Price is the main perceived barrier to purchasing, with 41 per cent citing it as a concern. Next comes personal privacy at 23 per cent.