Until recently, Steve Yianni was technical director for Network Rail where he introduced new arrangements to support rail innovation (issue 84, October 2011). Writes David Shirres
In August, he became chief executive of the newly-formed Transport Systems Catapult (TSC). As such, it might be thought that he is now also concerned with innovations in other transport modes. However this is not quite the case. In an exclusive interview with The Rail Engineer, Steve Yianni explained that this Catapult is “not specifically about designing trains, ships etc, instead we are about integrating the four main modes: road, rail, sea and air”.
The new Catapults
The TSC is one of seven Catapults created by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) – established by Government in 2007 to stimulate innovative technology and so boost UK productivity. The TSB does this by, amongst other things, the formation of online communities, Knowledge Transfer Networks, and competitions such as ‘Accelerating Innovation in Rail’ (issue 95, September 2012).
The TSB’s mandate was strengthened in 2010 by a Government announcement that £200 million was to be invested in technology and innovation centres for specific sectors which provide guidance on funding and emerging technologies. They also will bring together business, universities, research establishments and other expertise to develop innovative products to meet market needs. In this way businesses will have access to equipment and know-how that would otherwise be out of their reach. They have been branded as Catapults, signifying how they will accelerate innovation.
The TSB has now created seven Catapults: High Value Manufacturing, Cell Therapy, Offshore Renewable Energy, Connected Digital Economy, Satellite Applications, Future Cities and Transport Systems. These were chosen as they address areas that are strategically important for UK and have a large global market for which the UK has research and business capabilities to exploit. Steve advised that by 2025 the annual global transport market is likely to be around £3.6 trillion per annum, of which £900 billion will be for innovative integrated transport systems.
Making a start
There is an air of excitement at the TSC’s temporary office in Milton Keynes. Steve said: “We are just getting off the ground, identifying what we are going to work on and creating a team.” Currently there are 35 personnel with 271 planned by 2018. The TSB has just approved £47 million to fund the TSC’s five year plan and a further £17 million has been received from the Department for Transport.
Producing the five-year plan was an important initial step. Developed from extensive consultation involving 110 organisations, it estimates that by 2018 the TSC will generate economic benefits of £712 million. The plan includes a route map to achieve its aim of ‘Intelligent Mobility’, the cost effective movement of people and goods, which is a roundel with four concentric circles.
The outer circle represents the vision of Intelligent Mobility, inside this is one for the two part strategy to achieve this: Integrated Transport Systems using innovative technology and a Unified Transport Sector achieved through cultural change to avoid fragmentation. A further circle represents the four delivery mechanisms to achieve these strategies: innovation projects, thought leadership, an innovation centre and platforms & infrastructure (large-scale modelling and test facilities).
The inner circle is the TSC’s foundation of its organisation and its engagement with stakeholders.
Beyond the jargon
Some might consider the language used in this route map as hype and so may be sceptical about its effectiveness. For example the phrase ‘strategic innovation platforms’ might not impress but, in reality, describes two multi-million pound projects for which there is a great demand. These are the National Transport Systems Modelling (NTSM) facility and the Integrated Testing Environment (ITE).
In recent years, there have been great advances in virtual modelling to such an extent that prototype cars will soon be a thing of the past. Modelling of transport networks is also becoming increasingly sophisticated and includes economic benefits, environmental impact, asset management, operational cost, vehicle flow and pedestrian movement. However most of these are currently confined to a single transport mode.
NTSM meets an industry requirement for a multi-modal model identified at the initial consultation stage. It will provide open access to linked data from existing models, initially from the Highways Agency, Network Rail and Transport for London. The creation of a joined- up model for the entire transport system is considered to be a world first with benefits that include better planning decisions and improved assessment of new products. Steve considers it to be “a huge task”.
Just as NTSM will link models from different transport sectors, the ITE will use test results from facilities such as the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute, Transport Research Laboratory and Network Rail’s Old Dalby test track. Steve explained that collaboration is the intention as money will not be spent developing new test facilities. Instead, opportunities will be created for existing facilities to collaborate to test different transport interfaces. He identified the testing of new level crossing equipment as an example for which there might be a case for installing a railway line across the Motor Industry Research Association’s proving ground at Nuneaton.
On its website, the TSB explains that the TSC is needed as “we have a market failure in that there is no co-ordinated effort addressing transport integration”. This is because individual transport sectors work in isolation due to silo thinking and commercial pressures. “Of course there are commercial sensitivities, but I’m describing a vision that creates an environment where everyone wins” was Steve’s comment.
To promote this message requires ‘thought leadership’. The TSC is working with various groups to promote integrated transport and will run an Intelligent Mobility summit in 2014. Different sectors working together on NTSM and ITE should also break down barriers.
The TSC’s innovation centre will provide an environment for different industries to work together on developing cross sector projects. This centre will be located at Milton Keynes with 36,000 square feet of space for the delivery of innovation projects and will provide access to NTSMF and ITE.
The TSC does not sponsor projects nor run competitions. As Steve says: “This is something that the TSB is good at.” His Catapult intends to work collaboratively with others to pursue R&D work. This may involve being part of a team competing in TSB competitions such as the one for feasibility studies on integrated transport: in-field solutions for which results are announced in January.
The TSC is currently working with industry partners to develop a number of project opportunities. It is these projects which demonstrate how intelligent mobility can be achieved in practice. They include:
- Instant Weather (‘Now-casting’) – a collaboration with the Connected Digital Economy Catapult and the Met Office to develop applications for short-term localised weather predication using real-time environmental data from transport systems, for example sensors on cars that detect temperature, precipitation and lighting.
- Sentiment Mapping for Transport Systems – considering how the analysis of publically available social media channels can be used to optimise the design and operation of transport systems to meet public requirements. To do so, the TSC is working with the Royal College of Arts and will use Commonplace technology developed by OpenCityLabs.
- Autonomous Vehicle System Review – with European funded research into unmanned ships, this project has been initiated by the Marine Industries Leadership Council to assess state of the art development of autonomous vehicle systems in all transport sectors.
- Airport Integration – a project to integrate all real-time departure information across UK airports to both improve efficiency and the transition between transport modes.
These projects exploit concepts that may not be familiar and also capitalise on new ways of communicating and processing vast amounts of real time data. They can therefore be justifiably described as futuristic.
HIGNFY promotes LUTZ
The TSC team were delighted that the television programme Have I Got News For You (HIGNFY) had recently mentioned the LUTZ project. According to HIGNFY this project is a “new car that can drive itself” and that Milton Keynes was chosen for this project as it has “helpfully wide pavements”. Whilst it’s good to get such publicity, as might be expected this was not quite an accurate or complete description of the project.
In reality the LUTZ (Low-Carbon Urban Transport Zone) project plans to use Milton Keynes as a test bed for autonomous vehicles and transport-on-demand services. It has been developed by the Automotive Council and supported by the TSC. Its vehicles will be small self-driving pods that can each carry two people. The HIGNFY’s comment on the town’s pavements is partly true as the city has the space for an initial stage of the plan which has pods operating on pathways segregated from pedestrians. By 2018, it is expected that the concept will have been proven, enabling a fleet of 100 self-driving pods to mix with pedestrians on city centre paths.
LUTZ will also develop ‘cloud-enabled mobility’ – the concept of using a vast amount of transport data from all relevant sources, including vehicle sensors and personal phones, to create a ‘City Motion Map’. This will provide a real-time map of all pedestrian and vehicle movement in the city which can be used to optimise transport operations. Other potential benefits include ticketless travel using smartphones and monitoring road condition from vehicle suspension system sensors. There will also be leisure and retail sector applications for this data.
A specific benefit of the City Motion Map is the ability to offer transport-on-demand. This is not a new idea, as shown by the availability of dial-a-ride services in many areas. However, recent improvements in processing power, high-speed communications and route planning software offer the potential for almost instant cost-effective on-demand services. LUTZ will develop and trial such a system which will use both the self-driving pods and a fleet of 100 vehicles that can carry 8-10 passengers.
We want to lead the world
Unusually for The Rail Engineer, this article is not about railway engineering. It does however address developments that will become increasingly important for the UK rail engineering sector so it is important that rail engineers are aware of the opportunities that intelligent mobility will bring.
Providing better information and more responsive public transport must benefit the rail industry. In France, for example, SNCF has developed ‘Mytripset’ (http://mytripset. voyages-sncf.com), a Europe-wide journey planner which includes the UK and gives times and costs for all types of transport modes including car. SNCF would not be investing in this system unless it felt that it would show the advantage of rail travel. With on-demand self-driving pods to get to the station, rail becomes even more attractive.
It is interesting that the TSB has selected the integration of transport systems as one of seven technologies that meet UK strategic needs and offer the greatest potential to exploit global markets. The UK rail sector may have long lost its manufacturing lead but still offers world class in rail consultancy services. The TSC’s vision is to build on this and other expertise so that the UK will “lead the world in intelligent mobility”. As it starts up, the Transport Systems Catapult is providing the foundation to both achieve this aim and give Britain the joined up transport it needs.