CognicityWhere Barcelona leads, London is keen to follow.

It’s not often that you’ll read those words, but in smart city terms, it’s true. Barcelona is widely recognised as a pioneer of the Smart Cities movement. And now the Canary Wharf Group has set up a challenge called the Cognicity Challenge, which is designed to redress the balance in London’s favour. Or if perhaps not exactly London, at least that area of London’s Docklands known as Canary Wharf.

The Cognicity Challenge

Cognicity is a pioneering project set up by the Canary Wharf Group, which is designed to identify and accelerate the development of smart city technology products and services. The Group wants to create a leading smart city area around Canary Wharf. It is, apparently, all about the creation of ‘the integrated city of the future’.

The Cognicity Challenge is the starting point of the development. Participants, who are expected to be technology start-ups, will create and pilot the technologies that will enable the city to integrate. The six winning start-ups will each win a prize of £50,000 and the opportunity to pilot their product or service in Cognicity. It is, in fact, a start-up accelerator programme, a bit like Cisco’s Entrepreneurs in Residence, which we wrote about earlier this year. Participants will be provided with free accelerator space for the duration of the 12-week programme, and will also get advice and mentoring from Canary Wharf Group executives and other leading technology experts.

Challenge streams

There are currently four open challenge streams, and more on the way. All the start-ups applying should be using open or interoperable technology, for obvious reasons. The first two, for which applications close at the end of November, are Sustainable Buildings and Integrated Transportation. The 12-week accelerator will run from the end of January until mid-April 2015. Piloting will start from the end of April.

  • Sustainable Buildings is looking for applications from start-ups working on smart and green building technologies that improve efficiency and reduce operating costs. They might, for example, optimise resource use, connect smart devices, or develop new building materials.
  • Integrated Transportation is open to start-ups who are working on intelligent mobility projects. The idea is to enable seamless integration of public and individual transport, improving user experience and reducing disruption. They might also increase accessibility and usage, or use data to improve efficiency.

The next two, Integrated Resource Management and Automated Building Management, run slightly later. Applications close in mid-December for a 12-week accelerator programme from mid-February to mid-May, and piloting from the end of May.

  • Integrated Resource Management is about improving the integration of infrastructure. This might include load-balancing, demand-side response or COreduction, but should optimise energy, waste and water use.


  • Automated Building Management is for those start-ups who have developed digital platforms that will integrate solutions and interpret the resulting data to inform decision-making. It is envisaged that products will use high quality analytics to detect issues before they become problems. This will allow prioritising of maintenance and make sure that the building runs well.

There are also two further streams forthcoming, Connected Home, for devices that will improve life for residents and building managers, and Virtual Design and Construction, around building information modelling. Applications for those will open in early December, with the accelerator running from mid-April to early July, and piloting from mid-July.

A start-up accelerator with a difference

The Cognicity Challenge is different from other start-up accelerators. Others are usually designed to introduce a more entrepreneurial element to an established company, or even to give something back to the entrepreneurial community. The Cognicity Challenge is fiercely focused on its purpose, to develop a smart city area for the future to rival any other around the world. This has driven its streams of development, and also its urge to learn more and share information about innovation in smart city technology.

However, other smart cities are also building  on and with what is already available. Yes, innovation is a great thing, and of course it is vital to the future of smart cities, but perhaps what has most powered Barcelona’s progress as world-leading smart city is installing a network of fast fibre-optic broadband that enables free WiFi around the city. It’s fairly basic infrastructure, but it’s fundamental. Let’s hope Cognicity is not so focused on the joys of innovation that it forgets the importance of the underpinning basic infrastructure to ensure connectivity.


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