Driverless vehicles and digital care in the community – just some of the future prospects as Sunderland set to become UK’s leading smart city

The prospect of driverless vehicles, automated energy saving homes and digitally driven community care packages moved a step closer to reality following the announcement of a 20 year partnership between Sunderland City Council and BAI Communications.

Thursday, 21st October 2021, 4:55 pm

BAI has already installed similar technology in Hong Kong, Toronto, Sydney and New York and it’s hoped the £80million development will transform Sunderland into the UK’s leading smart city.

The increased speed and reliability of a 5G connection is seen as a cornerstone of the development of autonomous – driverless – vehicles.

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(left to right) Sunderland City Council leader Cllr Graeme Miller, Chief Executive Officer of BAI Communications, Billy D'Arcy, and Sunderland City Council's Chief Executive Officer Patrick Melia. Council leaders hope the announcement of a 20 year partnership with BAI Communications will lead to Sunderland becoming the UK's leading smart city.

BAI chief executive, Billy D’Arcy said: “A future of autonomous vehicles is something the whole world aspires to and the plan would be to install the active equipment to lampposts across the city. This technology is already being trialled with Nissan.

"We will create 5G bubbles across the city where we identify it is most needed. 5G is much faster and has a greater degree of reliability and accuracy with no loss of data.

"We will leverage the power of 5G and the internet to establish a network of connectivity which will enhance employment opportunities, business efficiency and growth, helping to secure a prosperous future.”

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The announcement of a 20 year partnership between Sunderland City Council and BAI Communications will see the city's digital connectivity improved with the installation of 5G in certain "bubble" locations.

The new technology will also be harnessed to develop more environmentally friendly smart homes, improve social care and help bridge the educational digital divide which was so evident during the pandemic.

Sunderland City Council chief executive Patrick Melia, said: “There will be better access to digital education for all young people in the city – no matter where you live. It will also enable families and care providers to keep a digital check on vulnerable people.

"Sensors can be used to let people know if a relative has turned the kettle on in the morning or opened the fridge or to send out an alert if they have not. The technology can also be harnessed to create more environmentally friendly homes which can turn off lights and appliances if they are left on or automatically turn down the heating if it gets too warm.

"Without 5G this wouldn’t be possible.”

In addition to creating an initial 100 jobs, the Mr Melia also hopes the technology will attract further businesses into the city as well as attracting high calibre students to the city’s university who will then contribute to the local workforce following graduation.

Patrick added: “This development really is groundbreaking and a game changer for the city. It has the potential to have a tremendous impact on all aspects of society – residents, education, the football club and businesses.

"The key to this development is that no one will get left behind and every part of the city will have good digital connectivity.

"We are leading the way with this and will hopefully become a global example of a smart city which will then be followed by others across the UK.”

Billy added: “As a regular visitor to the city, I’m delighted to be here today to announce this partnership.”

The first phase of the development will see the installation of a 1.8km 5G network established in the city’s business district which is expected to be operational by Summer 2022.

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