During the Summer we had the pleasure of hosting two interns here at Bristol is Open. Both from different backgrounds interns Rob Camm and Xin Wang did more than just learn on the job by bringing their insight to the projects they worked on. We take a look back at their time here at BiO and get their opinions on their internship and the future of smart cities.

How did you come to Bristol is Open?

Rob: Well, firstly I got a training contract with the law firm, Osborne Clarke and I was looking for work experience in areas of interest and relevance before I start the contract in 2019. Prior to this, I completed a BA Honours degree and then undertook a law conversion course which I have just finished. I was interested in Smart Cities and started looking for places that defined themselves as such. It didn’t take long for me to discover Bristol was one of the leading cities, not just in the UK, but worldwide too. I am locally based, so it was a natural fit and a great opportunity to complete two weeks of experience during August.

Xin: I am an MSc student at the University of Bath, studying electronic engineering which includes a three-month placement. It was my lecturer that recommended that I do my work placement here as Bristol is Open (BiO) had one of the best future projects in engineering and the Internet of Things.

What have you been doing during your placement?

Rob: I’ve been digging into the BiO website to improve copy and user experience making sure that everything is more aligned with what we actually want to say. I’ve also been tasked with looking at the legal side of things such as reviewing contracts and the way we work with our partners. My graduate scheme training contract includes 4-6 months working in different areas of law to gain very relevant experience. What I have been doing here at BiO is partly a version of what I will be doing in the future.

Xin: I’ve been involved in the practical delivery of BiO, in particular, the project monitoring air quality levels. On the engineering side, I’ve been working on and developing the detection and monitoring sensors, and on the tech side, I’ve been focused on the hardware and programming. In my role, I collect data from the sensors and upload it to BiO’s cloud, developing the process on collection and upload.
Everything is interesting. I’m working with technologies that can’t be taught or found at university and I love being involved with a real, live project. This placement will make up 30 credits of my course but most importantly, the placement has been great for developing personal skills and experience on my CV.

How have you found your experience?

Rob: I’ve really enjoyed it; the team have been so welcoming. Everyone has been happy to answer my questions and, with Julie’s experience and knowledge, it’s been a treat to be able to lean over the desk and ask her.

Xin: Working on-site at the University of Bristol has been an amazing experience. As Rob said, all our colleagues have been very friendly and nice; I didn’t expect the working environment to be so great. You ask questions and someone senior will come and give you an answer. I’m grateful that I’ve been allowed as much flexibility as I have as it’s allowed me to complete research at the University of Bath alongside my placement – it’s been a great help.

What is special about BiO?

Rob: It’s the amount that Bristol is so different from other cities. The operations centre is here at the heart of the city and is integrated with many other city operations such as traffic management, emergency services and so on. There’s certainly a lot more going on in this city compared to others, particularly with the level of background infrastructure that we have. It’s an interesting, diverse topic that could have different outcomes.

Xin: Bristol is Open has a 50:50 ownership between the University of Bristol and Bristol City Council which is unique; it’s also a Research and Development platform that everyone has been working hard on. The cooperation between the university and the council has allowed tech to be deployed and applied in real life more easily. I’ve personally been involved with Replicate and BigClouT which have been great opportunities to work with people from different areas such as mathematics and data analytics, and also electrical and internet engineers.

What excites you about smart cities?

Rob: Just the opportunity to focus on making things better in cities. Cities face problems like congestion, overcrowding and rising energy use. Working as a smart city or on a smart city project makes a difference to those problems.

Xin: The concept itself from a tech point of view is to link everything in the city and make it more elegant or convenient to live in – it’s an interesting concept. It might be the future for cities and is a great field for research as it’s new and exciting.

What makes a city smart?

Rob: Having information from various sources in a city that you might not normally get, for example, cameras monitoring traffic, using that and other data integrated together can improve things such as adjusting traffic lights to improve traffic flow.

Xin: More advanced algorithms and AI – we have data and have to analyse and develop a pattern to give guidance to Bristol City Council or governments. Also developing field computing scientists who can bring more advanced and useful algorithms. Ordinary people have data in their homes that’s being collected and, yes, it will take time for everyone to get used to this but if you don’t allow platforms to collect data then the smart city can’t develop as these things take time.

What is the most important development for a city to get smart?

Rob: The problems each city has are different and these need to be identified. It’s a case of looking at what’s pressing and talking with people who live in that city so we can use tech to find solutions. But it is different for each city.

Xin: I agree with Rob, every city has its own problems, whether it’s traffic or air quality, you have to focus on the most important problems. I also think that cities need funding to upgrade their technology and a lot of the time it’s just not there.

What’s next for you?

Rob: On 10th September, I’m starting the Legal Practice Course which will take me to the summer of 2019 before starting work at Osborne Clarke in September 2019.

Xin: At the end of August, I’m starting my three-month dissertation for my MSc which I will complete at the end of December and then I need to get a job in the industry.