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SITE VISIT | Liverpool’s Sensor City

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PLACE TECH LOGO FOR ARTICLESAs Government-backed research base Sensor City welcomes its first tech start-up tenants, Place North West visits the 25,000 sq ft building which is the first piece in Liverpool’s university enterprise zone.

Executive director Alison Mitchell led a tour of the building before introducing two tenants.

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About Sensor City:

  • Kier Construction completed the £15m scheme on Russell Street in the Knowledge Quarter in July, and tenants have since been moving in
  • Capacity for 19 customers, with five spaces already let. There is 5,040 sq ft of 6,300 sq ft remaining for offices and labs to let
  • Designed by IBI Group, it is a joint venture between University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University
  • Received £5m from the Department for Business, Enterprise & Industrial Strategy in 2014 and £5m from the European Regional Development Fund in 2016

Mitchell, previously chief information officer at BT, said: “Sensors are automating a lot of our lives so it makes sense to prioritise research into them. Sensor City is the only building of its kind in the UK which makes this a really exciting opportunity for Liverpool.”

Sensor City has technicians on site to help develop prototypes and products, alongside lab equipment, including 3D printers. There is also a 3D circuit printer, of which there are only four in the UK. Technicians are funded by LCR 4.0, a Local Enterprise Partnership project with a European Regional Development Fund budget of more than £4m, which allows companies to receive expertise from engineers and academics.

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A technician in one of the labs

Mitchell added that once the building is full, companies can progress to Liverpool Science Park, situated on Mount Pleasant, allowing more internal area to be let again. In terms of future development in the sensor industry, Mitchell was keen to champion the Liverpool location.

She said: “I hope that further developments will be based here, in this Liverpool building, to continue adding to the fantastic facilities we have available. It makes sense to focus on this hub, as it’s still very new. What we want to do is make sensors more accessible to humans.”

The building, spread over four storeys, has a range of hot desking suites, mechanical, electronic, and optical labs, as well as meetings and boardroom facilities.

Sensor City has started hosting hack events where entrepreneurs and university students can share ideas. For example, recently Amazon led a talk with university students.

Mitchell said: “The reaction from students was really encouraging and showed that we are on the right track with our collaborations.”

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Ground floor of the building

Sensor City is also interested in the Internet of Things, known as IoT, the inter-network between objects embedded with sensors, electronics, and software, enabling an exchange of data.

Mitchell added: “It is great we are in the Knowledge Quarter as we are bringing creative and productive companies together. Focussing on IoT is really pushing the boundaries of technology.”

One such company already working within the building is Chanua Health, occupying 344 sq ft. Co-founded and directed by PhD student Naomi Mwasamabili, Chanua is a healthcare innovation team interested in how sensors can be used within the healthcare sector. Its current focus is how support can be provided for young people experiencing mental health difficulties.

Mwasambili said: “I’d walked past this building a few times and every time I thought it looked amazing, so one day I went in, without knowing what it was at all. I quickly realised this would be a perfect technological team to work with, and discovered ways to use sensors in our research.”

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She continued: “We are looking at how we can introduce game-playing with models of the brain, by using sensors to help educate young people with what different parts of the brain do to help them understand how mental health can affect behaviour.

“In the past we have used sensors in care homes. Most people think of care homes for the elderly, so why not in those for younger people, too? For instance, something that happens often is young people losing their keys, so having a fingerprint-activated door could alleviate the stress of having to get the police or a locksmith out.”

Another tenant with Sensor City is Aqua Running. Chief executive Terry Nelson, a double kidney transplant survivor and amputee, is a former Liverpool FC midfielder. He developed a hydro-buoyancy swimsuit that users wear while exercising in water, to help rehabilitation from physical injuries.

Nelson said: “At the moment we are seeing how data from sensors can inform athletes’ rehabilitation from injury, so we’re in close contact with Real Madrid, testing our work from Sensor City.

“Our work is also pioneering because the suit reduces body weight by up to 90%. So a person who might weigh 130kg out of the water would only weigh 13kg in the water, meaning that we can help more people with exercise, and we are using sensors to help record this.”

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Another lab on site

Lozio, a personal grooming business, has taken 140 sq ft. Fatigue Management Info signed a 344 sq ft lease in June, and is working on sensors for the science market, such as measuring surgeons’ physical responses to fatigue.

Telecommunications specialist UPLEC Industries and IoT group Zaiku have also taken up tenancies in the building.

The University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University are each committing £1.5m to the project and £2m of co-investment from corporate sponsors is to be secured over the next five years. Cushman & Wakefield are agents on the scheme.

 

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