Resources, Infrastructure Systems and built Environments

Department of Civil & Structural Engineering

Urban Flows Sensor Build Competition



The Urban Flows Observatory is looking for creative ideas and practical solutions to contribute to an ambitious research project, the first of its kind in the UK. The Urban Flows Observatory is looking for you to build a prototype that will capture data about how energy and resources “flow” through the city. Successful finalists will be provided with necessary equipment to build their solution, up to the value of £4,000 and there is a prize package of up to £2,000 including a £500 cash prize! This is your opportunity to create a prototype that will ultimately help to solve some of the real-life challenges that we face in our cities today. This competition is open to anyone of any age from anywhere - all that we ask is that your sensors can be physically located in Sheffield.

What is the Urban Flows Observatory?

The purpose of the Urban Flows Observatory is to study the energy and resource flows into, through, and out of Sheffield. These energy and resource flows take a variety of forms, some examples include the monitoring of weather data and air pollution levels, the use of different building materials, and the production and consumption of energy. In order to study energy and resource flows, the Urban Flows Observatory will deploy fixed and mobile sensors and data gathering platforms across Sheffield that will measure a variety of physical and environmental parameters. By studying these energy and resource flows, the Urban Flows Observatory will achieve a greater understanding of their effects on the environmental conditions of the city. In turn, researchers will gain a better understanding on how these factors impact on the health and well-being of citizens. The overarching aim is to understand how to best design and integrate energy and resource flows within city systems in order to create a resilient and sustainable city.

About the competition

We need you to build a prototype to capture data (e.g. a sensor, sensor network or another novel way to capture digital data) about how energy and resources flow through the city. Your solution should be able to collect data that contributes to one or more of the following categories:

 Air quality and atmospheric conditions
 Energy consumption, efficiency, and sustainability
 Health and well-being

Each prototype must have the ability to monitor the energy/resource flows and capture data that can be used by the Urban Flows Observatory. Each prototype should also include the necessary communications capabilities suitable to transmit data to Urban Flows. We will also be looking for prototypes to have the potential to be scaled and / or commercialised.

The two streams of the competition

When it comes to creating a prototype like this, we appreciate that not everyone will have the same level of familiarity with the technology, skill, or technical ability. To ensure that our competition is open to all, we are accepting applications across two different streams initially: Novice and Expert. We will later follow this with a separate schools competition. We ask all entrants to “self-identify” which stream best suits their ability. There different prize packages for each stream, and solutions will be judged alongside their peers within the same stream:

“I regularly hack / make / engineer products with kits (e.g. Raspberry Pi, Arduino etc.), as well as doing my own modifications. I occasionally make things from scratch. I am the first to get my hand on new kit. I have built simple sensors to capture data before. I teach others how to use some of these programmes / kits.”

“I occasionally hack / make / engineer products with some of the pre-made Raspberry Pi and Arduino kits. I keep an eye out for new tools and techniques. I take part in workshops to hone my skills.”

Key milestones and dates 

13th December - 16th February

We would like anyone interested in entering to complete an initial Expression of Interest form by the 31st December. This will be followed by a written proposal detailing your idea for a prototype, with a detailed kit list of how much it will cost to build. This should provide an overview of your design idea and a realisation plan, alongside a fully costed list of required equipment. The questions will be exactly the same for both streams, with one additional question about scaling and commercialisation for the expert stream. The application form and equipment spreadsheet can be found attached at the bottom of the page. Please submit your completed forms to From this first round, the Urban Flows team will select at least two finalists from each stream. Finalists to be announced at the end of February. 

Round Two: Build a Prototype

Mid March - Mid May

The Urban Flows team will purchase the required kit for all finalists, and aim to have this delivered to the finalists by mid-March (assuming there are no issues with procurement). You must produce the built prototype by Friday 18th May 2018 for judging and for the Showcase Event (date to be confirmed). The judging panel will select one winner from each stream.

The prize package

This is an opportunity to contribute to a major project in the city that will receive nationwide acclaim and press coverage.  Winners from each stream will receive bespoke support from our sponsors  Autodesk, Siemens and Sheffield Techparks worth £2000, including a £500 cash prize as well as access to mentors and co-working space at University Sheffield Enterprise. 

The Judging Panel

The judging panel will be made up of the competition sponsors and the Urban Flows Directors. 


You can also Follow us on Twitter for regular updates and information on the project! @urbanflowsobs

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