LoRaWAN – Fighting crime and tackling climate change

Darllenwch y dudalen hon yn Gymraeg

In my last blog, I mentioned how LoRaWAN is revolutionising how sensing is done and, since then, it’s been incredible to witness LoRaWAN adoption increasing at pace.

For example, a major water utility company is investing in 5000 LoRaWAN gateways and 3 million sensors that will be retrofitted to existing water meters, and combined with Artificial Intelligence (AI), will improve detection of leaks and optimise the water network. 

Also, there are now battery-free LoRaWAN temperature and humidity sensors, powered either by light (like an old calculator) or even by household plants! Both of which help improve deployment and sensing options even further.

Next up, tackling climate change

Exciting developments are one thing, however, applying them to meet global challenges like climate change is quite another.

This is where the Welsh Government’s Optimised RetroFit Programme (ORP) comes in. Aimed at social landlords installing a variety of decarbonisation measures, ORP focuses on a whole house, pragmatic, approach to decarbonising existing homes.  It does this by considering the fabric or materials homes are made from, and the way we heat and store energy.  It also considers how energy reaches our homes.

Barcud Housing Association, a participating social landlord and an early adopter of LoRaWAN, is amongst the first to use LoRaWAN to provide near real-time reporting to the Welsh Government on the effectiveness of ORP funded interventions.

One of the practical ways Barcud has achieved this is by placing sensors within insulation panels during installation.  This has enabled it to gather data on how effective the materials are, helping inform future policies and product developments, with the aim of reducing carbon even further.

Barcud’s LoRaWAN investment has also enabled innovation on the statutory testing of emergency lighting by replacing a manual system with an automated, remote version.  This has saved Barcud both time and money, reducing the carbon footprint of running a fleet of vehicles that were previously used to travel to each property to carry out this work.

Fighting crime and looking after tenants

Barcud is also using this technology to identify vulnerable tenants who may be victims of anti-social behaviour.  The use of LoRaWAN sensors in properties to report on carbon dioxide levels, room humidity, light or noise levels, movement and other data sets can help identify patterns.  These patterns can then be used to identify a set of behaviours, which in turn can help identify possible anti-social behaviour or other housing concerns such as an abandoned property, lack of ventilation or heating which could lead to mould.

Barcud ensures all data is retrieved with the tenant’s agreement and that tenants are informed when data is collected in communal areas.  The ethical use of data and regard to any data protection issues is paramount in the use of the LoRaWAN sensors.

Barcud have used the data collected to protect vulnerable tenants and, in some instances, have identified patterns in the data collected that relate to archetypes of certain anti-social behaviour scenarios.  One example is the identification of cuckooing. Cuckooing is a form of crime that essentially means someone takes over the home of a vulnerable person in order to establish a base for illegal drug dealing, typically as part of a county lines operation.  Victims of cuckooing are often reluctant to come forward for fear of reprisal.  However, where a housing officer has suspicions that a tenant may be a victim of cuckooing, there is potential to use this technology to gather valuable evidence, without compromising the safety of the victim.

Another example of how LoRaWAN can help tenants is by using sensors to identify noise nuisance.  Noise levels in buildings can be monitored and charted via sensors to evidence other instances of anti-social behaviour.  

But it doesn’t stop there

Barcud is now looking at how LoRaWAN can be used to help identify other forms of health and safety issues or anti-social behaviour within their properties.  It is looking at piloting a ‘smart block’, which would be a block of flats fitted with LoRaWAN sensors in the communal areas.  

The thinking is that by using machine learning techniques they will be able to build algorithms to react to certain events.  So, for example, the data could be used to provide the safety status of the building and, if necessary, call for intervention from the appropriate maintenance or housing officer.  These early indications of health and safety or anti-social behaviour issues means that problems could be resolved quickly and with as little inconvenience to tenants as possible.  

The application of these technologies to housing management is a recent innovation in the UK, with Barcud playing a leading role in Wales.

Public Sector Innovation

“Growing Mid Wales is working with Welsh Government and local authorities in developing an innovation network, using LoRaWAN and other technologies to transform how both the public and private sector, deliver and develop services – Barcud’s excellent work in the IoT space demonstrates how we can grow the regions capabilities and cut carbon.”

David Owen – Digital Programme Manager, Growing Mid Wales

Many believe that it is the private sector that leads in innovation, that often isn’t the case, some would say it is a complete myth – take a look at this video:

In my next blog, I’ll be covering how some of the local authorities in Wales are undertaking some in-house innovation with LoRaWAN, from better flood management to tree health monitoring.

Blog by Peter Williams, Digital Infrastructure, Welsh Government

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