Smart cities, Sustainability and British innovation – An Interview with Laurence Kemball-Cook
Laurence Kemball-Cook is one of Britain’s up and coming innovators in the world of clean and sustainable technology.
His self-started company PAVEGEN is one of the forerunners in the research of kinetic energy and has, since its start 7 years ago, grown exponentially to a global level as the company now has offices in 9 different countries across the world.The pave stones made by the company create kinetic energy through movement and have now been tried and tested in Brazil and recently been installed in Dupont’s circle just outside the White House in Washington DC.This year Laurence was selected as an important entrepreneurial figure as part of the British government and Bloomberg’s campaign ‘Believe in the UK’, an initiative that promotes British trade, investment, and entrepreneurial opportunities.Over the next few years Laurence and PAVEGEN are seeking to expand the company even further in order to showcase the importance of sustainability but also hopefully bring this new form of energy creation to the countries of the world that need it most.
We spoke to Laurence about some of the big questions surrounding sustainable energy and how PAVEGEN will fit into the smart cities of the future.
PAVEGEN was started with a view to make cities more sustainable, what do you believe the biggest challenges are for the cities of the future?
The biggest challenge for the cities of the future is creating a space that people want to live in. A smart city is about seamless mobility, decentralized power, it’s about having remote-controlled sensor networks allowing for massive savings in energy.
The layer I am fascinated with is the digital layer and how people interact with their city and what I have been really focusing on recently is called the ‘internet of beings’ which is about the human, the physical and the digital. How do you get humans doing something physical, that you can track digitally and still be creating an environment they WANT to live in? Because ultimately cities are the new melting pot, and as we live surrounded by more and more machines, it’s getting more and more difficult for people to be content in those environments. Happiness is a going to be a key barometer of success in the future of smart cities, it’s the number one challenge to overcome, PAVEGEN is one of the solutions to this challenge: making people happier as well as being a tangible energy source.
How does PAVEGEN fit into the social side of sustainability?
I set out to re-address the balance of power and my journey led me to the creation of a floor that generates energy from footsteps, but it’s evolved into so much more as cities have developed and now it’s a way to empower people to be part of the city they live in. PAVEGEN is allowing people to engage in the energy-making process, and honestly watching it happen is one of the most magical things.
Enabling people to make an impact beyond their footstep is what we’re working towards. We’re currently creating a digital currency that allows people to ‘donate their footsteps’ and really take ownership of their city. By rewarding people for every step they make, you go beyond the nice ‘tick the box’ side of sustainability and enable really huge societal change. On the flip side, you are also collecting really useful data, and setting up a compelling business model for changing the fundamental fabric of how human economics works.
Any new idea has to pivot and make changes throughout its development journey and we’ve found that PAVEGEN has also turned into a really instrumental piece of marketing technology. We are changing people’s relationship with the floor, the floor is no longer something you just walk upon it’s an engaging tool, to break down barriers of communication and we’ve done it with some of the biggest brands in the world.
As a member of the Believe in the U.K scheme, how do you feel the British technological scene is developing at the moment?
Britain is best known for its exports in design, creativity and engineering from names like Burberry to Brompton bikes and also to PAVEGEN. The power of an idea, the rich ecosystem we have here in the UK, and the ambitious attitude of British entrepreneurs has allowed us to grow some of the most game-changing technologies and businesses and it’s unbelievable that PAVEGEN is one of them. We have some of the brightest minds for developing and commercializing innovation, regardless of the headlines, the UK is still a powerhouse of international innovation. The impact of Brexit will be a pinprick versus the value of innovation that will be created in Britain over the coming years; from financial technology products, all the way to hardware and software platforms. Per head our GDP for innovation is one of the highest in the world, so I think we have an amazing platform and we’re only going to get stronger no matter what happens with Brexit.
What are the next steps for PAVEGEN?
Next for us is working with some of the leading cities in the world to redefine how they see a smart city. Our plan is to be the very fabric of urban spaces, to be the ingredient brand within that future city and to be able to provide power in a really disruptive way with people always at the heart. We’re attempting to reduce the unit cost of the technology, to make it a standard across all future developments in cities. Our plan is to put a million tiles into each major city over the next ten years, therefore completely changing the way people interact with energy.
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