To stimulate the market for innovative solutions to common challenges faced by cities, the Technology Strategy Board is investing up to £5m in the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition Future Cities Solutions, concentrating on issues that UK cities highlighted as their main concerns - relating to energy, data and transportation.
Cities are having to face up to big issues such as climate change, changes in population and demographics, congestion and healthcare, and pressures on resources. More pressing, if perhaps more mundane, are the related issues around energy management, making better use of data generated by activities in cities and transport pressure such as parking.
With cities being the engine of economic growth - and one third of the UK's population living in the country's ten largest urban areas - there’s likely to be a large (and global) market for innovative approaches to creating efficient, attractive and resilient cities.
As part of its technological solutions to these issues that could have global export value, Technology Strategy Board are currently supporting sixteen demonstrate projects testing solutions and business models - such as from big data, crowdsourcing, and enabling apis to be integrated in third party platforms - to test the value of their proposals for cities and citizens. Five of these relate to transport.
The most successful of these projects, described below, are due to be selected for the development stage, to be announced later this summer, that will involve ‘test bed’ cities for the best ideas.
Arising from the Future Cities Demonstrator competition
The Technology Strategy Board’s previous Future Cities Demonstrator competition, in the summer of 2012, provided funding for 29 UK cities to carry out feasibility studies to show the value that could be created by integrating city systems. This allowed UK cities to explore new approaches to delivering stronger local economies and quality of life, while reducing environmental footprints and increasing resilience to environmental change.
In January 2013, Glasgow was chosen to carry out a large-scale demonstration of how city systems can be integrated, and the Technology Strategy Board has funded smaller demonstration projects in Bristol, London and Peterborough. These projects will enable businesses to test new solutions for connecting and integrating city systems.
The Technology Strategy Board and the cities that participated in the Demonstrator competition, also identified challenges facing local authorities, where viable solutions are not yet available on the market. The Future Cities solutions SBRI competition aimed to tackle these challenges, in the areas of energy, data and transportation.
There are two phases to the competition. The first phase, currently underway, provides support of up to £1m to sixteen projects, roughly evenly spread across the three challenges, each receiving a 100% funded development contract, up to just below £100,000.
The contracts were awarded in the autumn of last year to organisations to explore solutions, and to develop proposals for prototyping and implementation.
For the second phase, cities have offered themselves as ‘test beds’. Up to £4m is available for contracts to develop, deploy and test integrated urban solutions. Based on the quality of their proposals, developed in the first phase of the competition, successful organisations will attract a further 100%-funded development contract, to a maximum of £1m.
The competition is open to individual companies or organisations from the private, public and third sectors.
Adapt, extend and tune
The proposed solutions were required to be not currently available in the market.
In implementing their solutions, organisations were required to use open, non-proprietary application programming interfaces (APIs) and data formats, drawing on best practice and established standards, and leveraging proven technologies and systems. Their role was to adapt, extend and tune these technologies and systems, to address the shared challenges.
The proposals were also excepted to have the potential for wider deployment, as a tested and proven solution, in other cities in the UK and globally.
Challenge 3: a scalable, on-demand mobility solution to help employees or visitors reach businesses within a city
Transporting people, goods and services within a city is costly, and it affects a city's environmental footprint: for example it's estimated that, on any given day in the UK, 15% of CO2 emissions are reportedly caused by people driving around looking for a parking space.
Support has been provided for five projects that proposed solutions for developing a scalable on-demand mobility solution to help employees or visitors reach businesses within a city.
Collaborative parking solution project - led by Ethos VO Limited
Ethos VO Limited’s Parking Management Platform hopes to provide motorists with a faster way to find, book and pay for off-street parking - while also helping lower fuel costs and lessen the anxiety and frustration of looking for a parking space.
For cities and councils, the platform offers a means to optimise parking assets, while also providing opportunities for third-party developers to integrate the service into transport apps.
It is also projected to be self-financing by optimising the parking assets of cities.
Ethos Smart, is part of Ethos Valuable Outcomes Ltd, a social enterprise company based in London.
Commenting on the platform, its CEO Adrian Ulisse said, "For the city or council the benefits could include reduced traffic congestion, leading to reduced carbon emissions and improved air quality.”
"For the city resident or other visitors benefits would include an enhanced city-centre experience, due to less congestion and better air quality.”
Parking is a major headache for cities, that Ethos highlights as having knock on economic, environmental and wellbeing effects.
In terms of local economies - quoting a Swiftcover and BIS Understanding High Street Performance Report, Ethos points to the finding that around 51% of motorists are turning their backs on city centres because of difficulties in parking.
In terms of environmental impacts, Ethos repeats the Technology Strategy Board figure of up to 15% of vehicle emissions coming from motorists trying to park their vehicle; a figure if halved, according to Ofgem would reduce UK CO2 emissions by 38M tonnes a year.
In terms of citizens’ and council wellbeing, growing numbers of electric vehicle owners have found that city parking services often fail to meet their needs. Furthermore, cities could be accused of reputational damage from parking controls; with English councils generating £565M of parking charge surpluses from parking charges.
Ethos claims that although new technologies are being introduced, these tend to be fragmented in nature and proprietary, often with incomplete data locked in individual systems or static forms, a situation it regards as unsustainable.
Ethos’s collaborative parking platform is, however, based on a ‘common core dataset’ that uses an open source architecture. This should allow free access to real-time information about parking availability and pricing for use by both citizens and business. Additionally, Ethos intends to encourage an ecosystem of third-party applications, using the platform to provide services to aid motorists in their journey.
Such a collaborative approach should benefit drivers, and encourage incentives such as discounts for parking, as well as notification of car parks with spaces and pre-booking of spaces.
For cities, it offers an accurate measure of parking demand to help optimise its assets and allow parking to be a more precise policy tool.
For government the service is claimed as a model for self-financing open data publication.
For retailers and employers business intelligence such as sales against visitors, or office car park sharing, is offered. The data also offers entrepreneurial opportunities for web and mobile applications developers.
Ethos plans to set up a Community Interest Company to operate the collaborative parking platform, funded from by optimising of the participating cities’ parking assets. It is anticipated that key stakeholders will own a share in the company, with profits to be reinvested for the benefit of the citizens.
On 23 April 2014 Ethos Smart announced it had confirmed the feasibility of its proposed cloud based, linked open data Parking Management Platform and was working on its bid for Phase 2, the development phase, to receive funds to build a demonstrator and develop its commercialisation plans with selected city partners; a number of which have, it says, signed up as potential test-beds.
Travel Time; helping people to search, navigate and enjoy Smart Cities - led by iGeolise Limited
iGeolise was founded in 2009 after Charlie Davies has the eureka moment of re quantifying the unit of city navigation: thinking it would be more useful to find locations on online maps and apps based on the time it takes to travel, in all modes, rather than by distance.
Since then, a team of developers have built the Travel Time Platform that ‘turns distance into time’.
iGeolise, based at the SETsquared innovation centre at the University of Surrey, was recently featured by Technology Strategy Board as a success story - and become highly visible as a Beta feature to distinguish Zoopla.com’s property location service, that offers as a search filter travel time across transport modes to search the property market as a differentiator from similar sites that search by distance.
Possibly helped by this innovation Zoopla, that is Britain’s second-biggest property website, recently confirmed flotation plans which is likely to value the company at around £1bn.
With an eye to it’s own potential international expansion iGeolise recently took part in MIT’s (Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s) eTeam programme - one of the world’s most prestigious accelerator programmes.
According to iGeolise, searching by distance isn't (always) very helpful. A location five miles away might take ten minutes if on a fast route, but two hours if not; it might take one hour on a weekday morning but five minutes on a Sunday morning. iGeolise claim that travel time typically doubles the number of relevant results compared to distance, but its usefulness extends beyond searching for those places we want to visit; it can also provide a helpful comparison across different transport modes for the journey (comparing cars to public transport for instance).
The service could also provide optimum routing; define catchment areas for councils when considering business planning applications; help businesses plan for office relocations by analysing the impact on their staff’s commuting times; simplify and optimise car-pooling and car sharing schemes; and improve mail order delivery services.
Planning travel by time rather than distance, iGeolise claim, in itself, will save time, congestion, cost and CO2 emissions.
iGeolise has already built the Travel Time Platform which makes location content searchable by travel time. Patent applications are pending in the UK and USA for the platform, that has been built to scale (currently live across the UK, USA, and Thailand; including as a feature of the popular property search website Zoopla.com).
The funded project will enable the company to add three new features: 1. calculation of CO2 emissions for journeys; 2. calculation of the cost of journeys; and 3. the capability to update and refresh results from real-time information.
The Travel Time Platform is accessed via an API - which means that developers can include Travel Time into existing applications, websites and mobile applications, as well as into new ones.
Small Vehicle Transport System - led by Sustainable Environment Ltd
Inverness-based consultancy Sustainable Environment has devised and developed what it calls the Small Vehicle Transport System (SVTS). The goal is to offer urban mobility service that’s sufficiently fast, reliable, flexible, as well as priced and at comfort levels sufficient to persuade transport users to use it in preference to their cars for a majority of journeys.
SVTS is claimed as a ‘re-imagination’ of local transportation: a ubiquitous public transport service as good as the private car, but also commercially sustainable within a context of limited public sector resources.
SVTS is designed for the roughly 70% of motorised journeys most likely to be made by private car, particularly journeys made on a daily basis in suburbs, smaller towns and rural areas – for which public transport services, it’s suggested, currently struggle to serve effectively.
The service will utilise computing technologies and widespread ownership of mobile devices to promote SVTS as a simple to use mobility 'product’. The service will use eight-seater passenger vehicles, professionally driven, that will operate wholly in response to short notice demand, with neither routes nor timetables, all at a cost similar to bus fares.
SVTS also intends to innovate in its business model. By managing and tracking each journey, and separating this management from the operation of transport services, it’s hoped the public sector could adopt efficient outcome-based 'payments-by-results' procurement while the private sector can ‘commission’ journeys for their staff or customers.
To be Launched in Milton Keynes (and operated its sister 'delivery' company, Simply Connect Ltd), SVTS is an adopted policy at Milton Keynes Council. It also forms the ‘transport on-demand’ element of the two-seater driverless Lutz programme supported by The Transport Systems Catapult along with members of the Automotive Council, Department of Business, Innovation & Skills, Milton Keynes Council and industrial partners.
A fleet of about 400 SVTS vehicles in Milton Keynes is projected to have the potential to gain 15% of the total motorised local transport market: more than a 10% modal shift from the private car generating a turnover of around £80M a year.
With potential to operate in about 70% of the UK, SVTS is claimed as a scalable transport-on-demand system providing benefits including job creation, a 7% traffic reduction with 5-20% carbon reduction and consequent reduction in need for expanded highway infrastructure; as well as ensuring access for businesses, irrespective of parking limitations or the need for staff or customers to have a car.
Citizens At The City’s Heart - by TravelAI Limited
TravelAI together with partners ELGIN, ITOWorld, and Placr are combining technologies to demonstrate a journey planner and transport usage data service, that crowdsources multi-modal user data.
CATCH is an online and mobile app journey planner, with routing based on the live conditions of a transport system.
It searches by origin and destination name, not just postcode, and allows users to contribute to local knowledge. It studies a user’s speed, location and pattern of movement to detect the mode of transport currently used and then routes automatically. On average, the app correctly identifies a route for over 80% of journeys; within a couple of clicks, users can edit to make it even more accurate.
The data submitted by users comprises histories of journey planner searches, transport usage logs and any manual contributions, such as locations of potholes, notifications of late-running services or sentiment on the quality of a particular transport service. The data is automatically analysed and enhanced with meta data such as the categorisation of purpose (such commute or shopping trip). The combined data of all participating citizens provides local government, transport planners and operators with a rich dataset to better understand the interdependency of various modes of transport and suggest more effective transport services.
For cities, as well as helping citizens by get around, CATCH provides access to granular data and insight on transport and infrastructure usage. It also enables specific analysis - such as on pinch points, identifies modal interchanges, assesses service provision, plus eliminates the lead time of surveys.
This anonymised community data feeds back into the journey planner to improve overall results and is made available to cities and transport operators to help improve transport services.
In January this year TravelAI released a 0.9 alpha release of its TravelAI Catch! Demo app on the Google Play Store for use across the UK and EU using TravelAI's automated travel-detection technology.
The free demonstration version of the app is intended for city officials and citizens and transport professionals to view the potential of Catch! for their city. The demo app detects flights anywhere in the world and identifies land-based travel in the UK and continental Europe. It records any land-based journeys outside these regions as road travel. The demo version doesn't include the Catch! journey planner, but does include the crowd sourcing travel detection feature.
ImCity Park Green - led by Imtech Traffic & Infra
Imtech Traffic & Infra is a Basingstoke based technical services provider operating in the traffic and infrastructure markets. It combines electrical and mechanical engineering and ICT to deliver solutions for moving people, materials, energy and data. It has about 500 employees nationwide.
Prior to its acquisition by Royal Imtech NV in April 2007, Imtech Traffic & Infra UK Limited was known as Peek Traffic, with core markets of ITS and traffic equipment.
The ImCity Park Green project intends to provide real time travel information in cities for travellers, business users and small freight delivery operators. The service offers a scalable on-demand mobility solution for finding businesses within a city, so enabling or increasing the efficient mobility of people and goods. It will also provide real-time information on destination car parking availability, linked to a prediction of future occupancy based on historic data, as well as providing information on alternative travel modes and commercial pick-up/delivery options. By providing improved reliability for finding parking spaces the solution should reduce CO2 emissions and, with alerts to update users of changes on the network, provide alternative options.
The development phase - city ‘test beds'
The next part, phase two, of the competition is currently open for applications from the sixteen demonstrators - with an impending deadline of 11 June 2014, at noon.
Phase two applicants are due to be notified of decisions by 14 July 2014 and contracts awarded by 13 August 2014.