Occupy whitespace : the Oxford Flood Network

By | November 8, 2013
When the analogue TV signals were switched off last year it freed up several chunks of spectrum, and enabled the UK to be among the first countries in the world to road-test ‘whitespace’ technology – the opportunistic, temporary sharing of unused spectrum by users in a geographical area.

For the UK, this low-power, long-range part of the spectrum is ideal for wireless sensor networks and the Internet of Things, and Ofcom is taking steps to facilitate this by running a pilot in which organisations can run trials to test a variety of innovative applications ranging from sensors that monitor the behaviour of cities, to dynamic information for road users and rural broadband in hard to reach places.

A very Oxford problem:
the west-city flood plain

In Oxford, the partnership of Love Hz and MLL Telecom has registered with Ofcom to run a trial whitespace network which could be used for Internet of Things and Machine-to-Machine applications such as managing the efficiency of buildings, taking environmental measurements and developing private network infrastructures.

As a first application, they propose to develop the Oxford Flood Network, citizen-based water-level monitoring sensors – a “guerilla network” in the spirit of the crowdsourced Japan Radiation Map created by the public around Fukushima in response to a lack of official information.

The idea is to create, without the need for bureaucratic intervention, a series of sensors in positions around the city from which real-time river level and flow data can be collected, and the information made available to the public.

“My neighbour’s house has a borehole underneath and he measures the current groundwater level with a dipstick.” says Ben Ward of Love Hz. ” Friends a few roads away currently have water sloshing about under their living room in their floor void. These would both be great indicators of imminent flooding and could easily be added to the Internet of Things using a system like Cosm.” Ben suggests that a whitespace transmitter (max range 10km and a battery life of 10 years) would be ideal for such sensors.

The project received an exciting boost last weekend, when several teams at the Oxford Sushack Hackathon chose to focus and co-ordinate their project work to successfully produce a proof-of-concept prototype – a sensor sending basic data on a short-distance radio frequency, a Raspberry Pi-based endpoint to accept data from a RF receiver and re-broadcast it, a webservice to take this sensor data and store it for one or many sensors, an API for presenting this data intelligently, and an independent website to demonstrate how the data could be used.

Current progress with the Ofcom pilot schedule suggests that the trial will be able to begin in earnest at the start of next year, and we look forward to developments at that point.

Like to engage with this project? Follow the Oxford Flood Network project on Twitter, or participate via the Oxford Flood Network forum.

Image: Oxford City Council