Case study

Computing solutions give companies that
competitive edge

University of Derby expertise in edge computing is helping businesses to capture and process data for faster decision-making – including improving their response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

An innovative partnership between researchers at the University of Derby and leading IT services company RDS Global delivered a data management system which has enabled many organisations to operate more effectively amid the challenges of the pandemic.

In what is thought to be the first project of its kind, the University’s research underpinned the development of the RDS Black Box, a unique solution that allows data feeds from multiple sources and platforms to be brought together in a comprehensive management information system. It provides a real-time dashboard that businesses can use to enhance their customer service, reduce costs and correct the errors often associated with disjointed systems.

During 2020 the Black Box was adapted to feature in devices which have helped hospitality and retail organisations to provide additional safety measures and peace of mind for visitors and staff entering their premises.

The development draws upon the University’s strong track record in harnessing edge computing and data science to solve real-world problems in industry. Edge computing can ensure greater efficiency and speed because it captures, stores and processes data at the edge of the network or device where it has been generated and where it is needed, instead of in a centralised data processing warehouse.

The research team took a pioneering approach by incorporating a novel deep learning – or artificial intelligence – technique in a fully decentralised edge environment to support more effective, timely decision-making. This approach can potentially be applied to millions of industrial Internet of Things (IoT) devices without the need for dedicated high-performance servers.

The partnership with RDS dates back to 2015 when the company secured finance through the University’s Regional Growth Fund (RGF) -funded Invest to Grow programme to purchase new premises for the development of an integrated fleet management system. In 2019, the collaboration was taken a step further through the Black Box research, funded by an Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) grant and supported by research staff at the University.

The innovative solutions generated by the research have provided a new revenue and profit stream for RDS, allowing it to expand its services into sectors beyond IT while creating new jobs. A number of third-party organisations have purchased and adopted the system. As a result – in a year when many companies reported losses due to the pandemic – the Black Box generated additional income of £160,000 for the company and reduced its systems costs by £16,000.

With the emergence of Covid-19, the research team worked with the company to refine the original Black Box concept further to help hospitality, retail and leisure venues to re-open during periods when lockdown restrictions were eased. Sited at venue entrances, Black Box stations can provide hand sanitiser, temperature monitoring, ID card or facial recognition, access control, and collection of track-and-trace data.

For employees, visitors and customers, the system provides reassurance that robust safety measures are in place. For businesses, it delivers real-time information – via online reports and dashboards – so that alerts can be raised, PPE usage can be monitored and sanitiser re-fills can be ordered. In just one example, Derby Museums Trust used the Black Box as an efficient way to check temperatures and dispense sanitiser at its entrances, allowing it to open its doors during the summer when other cultural attractions remained shut.

With more processing power and storage supplements set to improve IoT and mobile devices in future, the University’s research is at the forefront of the latest developments, showing how innovative applications of edge computing can give businesses a strategic advantage.

Funders

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Research papers