On 12 November 2019, techUK gathered leading innovators, technologists and service providers to explore the potential of our digitally-enabled future of mobility. Speakers from across the sector presented the challenges and future solutions for transport – from enablers such as data and AI, to infrastructure changes and connectivity, the delivery of future services and what lies – or flies – beyond the traditional road and rail networks. Some of the key themes of this thought-provoking event are gathered below. Thank you to all of our speakers for their engaging presentations, our attendees and to our sponsor Hitachi Rail.
The Passenger Experience: Fragmentation to Integration
The inevitable question of ‘who’ or ‘what’ moves in the future of mobility services was a consistent topic throughout the day. Specifically, improvements that can be made to the passenger journey through technological solutions.
What if we consider the app or the phone as a stand-in for the car, giving users access to multiple travel choices. The result? If all vehicles were shared, Uber’s Christopher Hook explained, we may only need 3% of them. The ‘whole journey’ approach was echoed by Dr. Kum Wah Choy from Costain, in his concept of ‘connected automated mobility.’ The implementation of digital roads would enable the seamless interoperation of services across borders, with no interruption to digital communication from London to Paris.
What of comfort? Tracy Savill from Connected Places Catapult outlined that ‘pain points’ arise in 75% of passenger journeys. Hyper-personalisation offers a solution for a range of commuters: the ageing population who need to find a seat, and the “digital-first” mindset of Generation Z.
The outcome of an improved passenger experience? Andrew Conway from BAI Communications explained that if connectivity were to improve on rail journeys, 40% of people would consider moving home, 60% would consider changing their working hours, and 53% would be happier and more relaxed.
Connecting the Dots.
The advantages of data in mapping the future of mobility services was also a prominent theme. The question was: how? Do providers work with all of the historical data available, as Google Cloud’s Stuart Green argued? Or do we just look at the meaningful events, as argued by Robin Brattel from Iotic Labs? Whichever way, one idea was universally agreed: mobility must be connected together, whether it’s national infrastructure as Digital Twins or connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) operating on a national 5G network.
There can be additional benefits to connectivity and data gathering, as Stuart Green highlighted, fitting Google Maps vehicles with air pollution sensors enables the mapping of both air quality and physical maps. Similarly, Costain’s Liam Thomson outlined the idea of fitting train cabs with signalling infrastructure, a shift from trackside that would increase rail capacity by 40% and prove 30% cheaper than new railways, as trains could run closer together.
But ultimately, for many passengers, connectivity (for data, voice or otherwise) is predicated on nullifying the familiar phrase “I’m on the train so sorry if I get cut off” as explained by Telefonica’s John Aloy.
Several speakers discussed the challenges of cooperation between the public and private sector, with many future mobility services caught where innovation meets regulation and policy. Indeed, it’s not just about the technology, it’s about the business model. Certainly, both sides have come together across numerous transport projects, but more collaboration may be required if the ambitions of the tech sector are to be realised. The benefits were outlined by Lucy Yu from FiveAI, specifically a solution to replicating the unpredictable conditions of road travel in tests which would replace human error (95% of all road accidents) with autonomous driving.
Backbone and Beyond.
Many of our speakers represented the future of road and rail travel, two sectors that all agreed would form the backbone of any future smart city. But if the net-zero challenge is to be met, the tech industry must look beyond. Simon Whalley from SkyPorts delivered the keynote, a fascinating insight into the infrastructure requirements for air mobility and a recent use case in Singapore. Arising out of the work of Skyports and its partner Volocopter was the consideration that any air taxi port or facility would need to connect seamlessly with other transport options, as well as modular construction for simple pack down and relocation.
From Local to Typical.
Future mobility consultant Nick Reed shared some key insights, including the concept of ‘prospective proliferation’. Innovation need not remain in the community or city in which it originated, what works in London may work in Sydney, and beyond.
Anna Maudet from Hitachi Rail echoed this line of thinking, explaining how Hitachi’s innovation in battery trains – currently in operation in Japan – will soon form part of the East Midlands rail programme.
Chargepoint’s Policy Director for UK & Ireland Tanya Sinclair also shared the sentiment, asking ‘what challenges do different cities have in rolling out EV chargepoints?’… The same! The proliferation of solutions will enable mobility services to flourish in the future, and more importantly, contribute to the overarching goal of decarbonising the road and rail network.
Future Mobility Services was a stimulating day, with much to consider for 2020. Several of techUK’s work programmes run across the topics discussed during the conference, and our future work might ask the questions: what of future mobility services outside of the city? What are some of the cyber and data security challenges in an increasingly connected transport system? What role can the UK play in 2020 in smart transport integration and regulation, in light of COP26 in Glasgow?
About SmarterUK and Smart Transport
SmarterUK serves to champion the role and value of smart infrastructure in the UK. The programme covers three industry work streams; transport, smart cities and smart energy and utilities.
The Transport Work Stream exists to encourage innovation in transport and highlight the crucial role of the UK tech sector in the delivery of a “digitally-enabled, interoperable, integrated and inclusive transport network that connects our citizens with multiple modes of transport services.” The programme focuses on rail, road, air, logistics and freight.
SmarterUK will publish the Future Mobility Services in the UK report in early 2020. You can read our previous report from 2018 here.