Work has commenced on Hertfordshire County Council’s Hertfordshire Living Lab project, set to pave the way for future smart towns and cities across the country. The county council has secured a £748k Local Growth Fund grant from Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

The project brings together partners Ocado Group, BT, the University of Hertfordshire and Hertfordshire LEP. Together they will transform Hatfield Business Park into a model ‘smart place’ with the introduction of an open and experimental digital ecosystem.

Hatfield Business Park has a mix of private businesses, public sector organisations and residential properties, making it an ideal multi-use environment in which to develop innovations to serve local communities.

Pictured above: Hatfield Business Park

Digital twin, driverless cars, drones, robots, smart infrastructure and smart services will be used to support the development of pioneering solutions to everyday issues. The Lab will ‘learn by doing’ by delivering experimental services to residents, local employees and students, from driverless delivery of goods to mobility services such as shared bikes and e-scooters. People will also have exciting opportunities to co-create these innovative services and solutions through a dedicated digital engagement platform.

Working with its EE mobile arm, BT is providing the 5G network for the Lab which will power the next generation of connectivity needed to support the sustainable, smart services at the heart of the project. The company is now working to provide the best network foundations to support the smart devices being deployed in the Lab, which enable real-time decision making in data-driven environments.

BT’s 5G network expertise will also further support the testing of future network capabilities such as Edge computing, where data is stored and processed rapidly on site to improve response times, as well as working with customers across the business park to identify areas where 5G-led technologies can bring benefits to their organisation and the wider region.

Phil Bibby, Cabinet Member for Highways and Environment for Hertfordshire County Council, said: “This is a great step forward for our Hertfordshire Living Lab project. Residents and local communities are at the heart of what we do and these proposed sustainable, smart services will go a long way in helping us to achieve our vision for a smarter, more sustainable county, which will benefit not only our organisations but the people and businesses of Hertfordshire and in the future, the wider UK.”

Nitin Dahad, Chair of Hertfordshire LEP’s Enterprise and Innovation Board, said: “We have the exciting opportunity to explore the potential of advanced technologies to support smart living. Harnessing the technical expertise of partners Ocado and BT, Hertfordshire Living Lab will provide a practical test-bed to highlight the possibilities of what a town of the future could look like: one that is green, healthy, efficient and thriving, and which improves the quality of life for residents while presenting new opportunities for businesses. This project has the potential to change the way towns and cities are shaped across the UK and beyond. We look forward to seeing the future unfold right here in Hatfield.”

Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, Luke Hall MP said: “Championing smarter, more sustainable living is a key way in which we’re supporting towns across the country. By backing Hertfordshire Living Lab with a Local Growth Investment of over £700,000, we’re supporting pioneering research into smart places of the future. I look forward to hearing what exciting initiatives the lab rolls out to the local community and the benefits this brings to the residents of Hatfield.”

Fotis Karonis, Chief Technology and Information Officer for BT’s Enterprise business, said: “To truly deliver the smart places of the future, local authorities need the ultrafast speeds, capacity and responsiveness of 5G. It will become the foundation of a smarter, sustainable and socially inclusive society, by combining with other technologies such as AI, IoT, Cloud and Big Data to build better public services and stronger businesses. We’re delighted to join HCC in this partnership and look forward to creating a new digital fabric which will transform the region.”

Alex Harvey, Chief of Advanced Technology for Ocado Group, said: “Over the last 20 years, we've been on an exciting journey of developing world-leading smart logistics powered by AI and smart machines. These smart machines were conceived within digital models but then matured within living labs, where a ‘learning by doing’ approach exposed them to diverse challenges and human interaction. We are delighted to be partnering with a group of truly forward-thinking organisations to launch a new living lab in the heart of Hatfield to explore the intersection of autonomous vehicles, drones and other smart machines.”