Urban Flows will help cities to thrive within the carrying capacity of the planet by developing a globally leading understanding of the flows of energy and resources.

Research Vision

The Urban Flows Observatory seeks to understand how the physical (energy and material resources) metabolism of cities can be effectively measured, understood and utilised. To do this, we will deploy mobile and fixed sensors around Sheffield to improve our understanding of the city. 

We will use this knowledge to answer questions such as what are the actual resource consumption characteristics of a city? How is this composed and how does it vary as a function of social, economic and environmental indicators? What are the environmental consequences of this type of consumption? Could the circular economy play a role in changing this balance?

We aim to provide the methodologies and tools to design urban sensing architectures, to manage and analyse urban data streams. From this, we will develop a robust evidence base to facilitate local and national decision making, supporting the creation of zero carbon, healthy, happy cities.

What is an Urban Observatory?

Through the gathering of data relating to the physical processes within cities, Urban Observatories enable characterisation of how cities ‘work’ and how their constituent engineering, natural and social systems interact.

This characterisation is achieved through the analysis of data to create information, support modelling and build simulations of these physical processes.

The Urban Flows Observatory is a single platform with the following integrated components:

  • Sensors (fixed, mobile, atmospheric)
  • Middleware (to gather the data from sensors)
  • Data storage
  • Data processing (to turn the data in to information)
  • Visualisation suite (a lab with screen and VR kit)


The Urban Flows Observatory is funded through EPSRC capital support totalling £1.5million, with an additional £400k for an Urban Remote Sensing vehicle which is shared with partner UKCRIC Universities. The University of Sheffield has further supported Urban Flows with an additional £300k towards both equipment and a technical manager.

“Our data capture will include: thermal and visual imaging, air quality, local weather conditions, and energy use.”