#SmartCrokePark: Inside Dublin’s IoT Stadium

Croke Park, Ireland’s largest stadium, has become one of the world’s most important Internet Of Things testbeds.

The project came about from a meeting two years ago between the President of Dublin City University, Professor Brian MacCraith, and Arizona State University’s Michael M. Crow.

Intel have come on board as tech partners and Croke Park’s management are also central to the initiative.

This is a massive opportunity for Ireland’s tech companies; a chance for those of us with ambitions to create technologies which impact masses of people to test those technologies in a future city microcosm.

Ireland’s tech companies can cluster around this evolving testbed.

We will have the opportunity to iterate faster than our competitors.

We will get to experiment in a confined space populated by 80,000 people and with a guaranteed degree of predictable behaviour: Croke Park on the day of a match, a concert, or a conference.

Can you think of a tech company on the planet that couldn’t find a use for this opportunity?

It’s happening now, on our doorstep and I’m glad to report it’s being run a bunch of people who move fast.

I went out to DCU and met with Dr. Suzanne Little and Laura Clifford from the core team behind the project, to go beyond the press releases and find out more about this giant tech playpen.

Dr. Little, a lecturer in DCU’s School of Computing and researcher with the Insight Centre For Data Analytics is already using the Smart Stadium as a testbed for multiple projects she’s involved with.

“I love the term playpen”, she enthuses, “That’s exactly how I think about this project.

As a researcher, I love the fact that it’s practical, that it’s driven by the real needs of the stadium and the people that come to the stadium. It’s addressing practical needs but it’s able to push the envelope on what’s achievable because you’re becoming part of something that’s bigger, that can reach more people, that can stress test ideas and technologies in ways that’s not easy to do otherwise.”

“A stadium is a microcosm of a smart city”, Suzanne continues, “If you’re developing technologies for the smart cities sector it’s very difficult to test that at city scale. Within a stadium you’ve got a defined boundary, you’ve got a known density of people that can be predicted. That gives you really good opportunities to stress test your work.”

Crowd Density Heatmap Demo:

Suzanne’s work is partly focused on automatic video analysis and reaction. She’s using the Croke Park Smart Stadium to automate reactions to crowd movements, which could prove crucial in emergency situations.

“My research interests focus around multi-media and data”, she explains. “We’re crying out for sources of big data that we’re able to analyse. For example, if a crowd builds up, is it that because someone’s tripped over and you should send somebody to help them, or has someone just dropped their hotdog and everyone’s walking around the mess and you should send a cleaner?”

Suzanne and her fellow researchers in DCU have been using data sources already installed in Croke Park, along with a number of new sources. “We have Intel gateway support systems which provide connectivity of IOT enabled devices,” she says.

“We have five of those located around the stadium which are collecting data streams from various sources. Intel have also installed a weather station up on the roof. There are the microphones that are being used to determine the noise that the crowd is generating. We have cameras installed so we can measure things like the movement of crowd. We’re also looking at the light and shade that falls on the pitch itself; that’s helping us look at light exposure for the grass.”

I asked Suzanne the burning question most tech companies asked when I mentioned this Croke Park project to them: what about the connectivity? Her response floored me by completely reframing the question.

“It depends what connectivity you really need,’ Suzanne responds, “If it’s something that’s feasible then we’ll incorporate it but given that Croke Park is fairly typical in terms of the worldwide stadium market, can you tackle that market as it is now rather than how it’s going to be in 2 or 3 years’ time?”

I thank Suzanne because I’ll never ask that question again. It’s not a connectivity issue: it’s an obstacle for us all to work around. An unrealistic amount of bandwidth could actually skew the experiment and deliver useless data.

The Croke Park Smart Stadium project is being run in a manner that’s refreshingly free of bureaucracy.

They are super approachable and want to hear from us. Now’s the time to get involved in framing the testbed, because they’ll starting implementing the next phase over the next few months.

Smart Stadium Wearables Demo:

The Croke Park Smart Stadium could be the iPhone of IOT.

Laura Clifford is in charge of the business development. She’ll likely be one of the first people you’ll engage with when you reach out.

“The venture isn’t commercial”, Laura emphasises. “Our vision for the project is that it’s an open and accessible testbed for those delivering IOT technologies. There is a strong research focus to the project. Open innovation allows people to come together. The learnings you can get from working alongside people who would traditionally have been perceived as competitors.

It’s a unique opportunity to bring people together. We don’t want to develop something that isn’t needs-driven by the market. We’re reaching out to companies and saying please come and tell us what you need. We will build the testbed around that and build the maximum benefit for the maximum number of companies.”

I asked Laura if companies will be charged to use the testbed.

“At the moment we don’t have a fee”, Laura explains, “It’s not a commercial entity. It will be on a case-by-case basis and we will be able to assist companies in accessing co-funded opportunities.”

In general, the DCU team are ideas-led and committed to supporting projects in applications for Government and Horizon 2020 funding. Begin the process by emailing the team (via smartstadium@crokepark.ie) and arranging a conversation.

IOT now feels a lot like the mobile web did fifteen years ago. There are mind-blowing possibilities and loads of obstacles. The Croke Park Smart Stadium could be the iPhone of IOT. This is a massive chance to get great data, and get it right now.

Listen: Donal Scannell talks to Dr. Suzanne Little and Laura Clifford:

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