Embedding IoT Ideas in the South Yorkshire Region

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< Project Overview >

Introduction

This project supported stipends, equipment, and mentoring for 8 students to explore IoT projects during the summer for 4 weeks, from 14 June to 9 July 2021. Following on from last year’s very successful student placements, this year we partnered with Barnsley Digital Media Centre to embed our students in Barnsley, exploring IoT product concepts. The students were introduced to a selection of local and regional businesses who had genuine business needs for IoT solutions. The students developed their proof of concept ideas in the recently opened Makerlab at Barnsley DMC 02, and provided valuable evaluation and feedback on the facility for the Barnsley DMC team.

Project aims

The project’s main aims were:

  • Give students from across the Faculty of Engineering the opportunity to develop IoT devices with expert mentoring and support. This ensures both a pool of trained and interested students, and that these students see the IoT opportunities to remain in the region on graduation. (Building IoT Capacity and Collaborations).
  • Engage with South Yorkshire regional businesses interested in IoT development, and to have the students “feasibility test” their ideas. Some of the businesses involved are not IoT businesses, others are start-ups and SMEs, so in both cases it is important that they can evaluate whether IoT solutions are practical for them without committing excessive time and money. (Developing IoT and Ensuring Fitness for Purpose, De-risking IoT Adoption).
  • Evaluate and demonstrate the Barnsley DMC 02 Makerlab as an environment for IoT development by SMEs. This space is newly opened and intended to provide a resource for local businesses to do product development at a start-up scale. (Resource Access, Building IoT Capacity and Collaborations).

What was done?

With a much more condensed timetable this year, the students engaged with a number of businesses and did rapid feasibility studies of IoT project ideas. This ranged from various healthcare and physiotherapy projects, to Quality Assurance for manufacturing. Within the limitations of Covid-safe working, the students were based in the new Makerlab at Barnsley DMC 02. This was the first significant use of the space, and the students were able to use the facilities, but also provide valuable feedback to the DMC on what worked well and what could be improved. Their presence also helped showcase the space to businesses interested in operating in the region. 

The short timeline was broken into a 4 week programme: 

  • The first being initial explorations of IoT and meeting the businesses who were proposing the challenges.
  • The second week was the main development time for the students’ prototypes.
  • The third week included a ‘demo day’ showcase of the project progress, and factored in some time for the students to travel since it was the week in which student tenancy contracts expired.
  • The final week allowed the students to follow up on feedback from the showcase and to complete their reports.

Results

All of the students developed interesting projects, each of which took a novel approach to one of the challenges set by the regional businesses. Three students worked in a manufacturing context, developing different approaches to measuring parts using computer vision. Three more students worked on healthcare projects, including physiotherapy monitoring and also elderly care monitoring. The remaining students looked at projects including data analytics for road deterioration prediction, and fridge monitoring for medical storage and logistics

The challenge-setting businesses and showcase attendees were impressed by the students’ project progress. Additional businesses became interested in what the students were doing and one of the students was offered a part-time job to complete their prototype. (This could not be taken up due to sandwich placement commitments). 

The students provided the DMC team with valuable insights into further development of the Makerlab.

The DMC team was very complimentary about the students’ hard work, politeness and good adherence to the Covid regulations. They were a credit to themselves and the University of Sheffield.

Deliverables and other tangible outputs

Each student produced a report detailing the challenge that they studied, the technologies they used, details of their hardware/software prototype, the successes (or otherwise!) and lessons learnt. This has been uploaded on to GitHub repository, providing an ongoing resource to others.

The project produced a student project showcase, including individual presentations and also discussion with a wide range of stakeholders. This was recorded and is available via the Enterprising Barnsley YouTube channel.

Impact

Each student project report was passed on to the company that suggested it, and their evaluations of technologies were well received. It is too early to know whether the companies will continue the development that the students have started.       

The students also provided valuable feedback to the Barnsley DMC makerspace, and showcased the facility to both the business involved in this project, and several other interested parties. As well as demonstrating the utility of the space, the students’ presence was a valuable contribution to the regional technology ecosystem and IoT network, since the involvement of a major university and its (international) students is helpful as Barnsley’s DMC makes connections nationally and internationally.

Next steps

TEAM SY are running an “IoT pre-accelerator” programme for regional businesses, organised by Capital Enterprise (UK) Limited and Barnsley Council and is part-funded through the European Regional Development Fund. It is hoped to include some of the participant businesses from these IoT student projects, and also maintain the connections with the University. Also, the progress of the students – both technically, and in terms of the project structure and mentoring – has provided some inspiration and guidance to the development of the pre-accelerator programme.

Lessons learned

Barnsley’s DMC 02 (including both the makerspace, and the flexible working areas) was an excellent venue for hosting these placements. The Makerlab allowed to students to develop their IoT projects, but the availability of other co-working space (which they also had access to) was valuable for the mentors to meet with students, but also to continue with other tasks while being available to the students if needed. 

The DMC team also ensured the students had a warm welcome and local support.

This project was planned and delivered on very short notice for a variety of good reasons. More notice could have allowed a longer and more carefully curated engagement with the regional businesses.

Broader and longer engagement with the regional businesses would have allowed a more controlled development phase and follow up to the student projects. The student reports seem to have been well received, but we haven’t been able to create a concrete structure in which to continue their developments.

Access to deliverables, resources and media content


Student reports on individual projects:

The recording of the project showcase is here.

What has Pitch-In done for you?

This has been another excellent opportunity for the students and for the regional businesses. We are aware that Pitch-In found the funding for this project at short notice and were able to make a range of logistical and financial transactions happen rapidly. This allowed a fruitful co-operation with the Barnsley Digital Media Centre and their team, which we hope will continue, and it showcased the opportunities of working with the University to the IoT community. 

Project lead

Dr Ramsay Taylor – University of Sheffield

Project partners

Barnsley Digital Media Centre
Ioetec

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