Startups provide TfL with AI and simulation to keep London moving

by Joseph K. Clark

Transport for London (TfL) has selected two startups from its 2019 RoadLab innovation challenge to provide innovative technology to support the city’s road network.

Artificial intelligence (AI) software from Samdesk will use anonymized social media data to detect incidents on the road network, and simulation technology from Immense will provide models of roadworks to help understand their impact on London’s road network.

London moving

The AI technology from Samdesk uses real-time anonymised social media data to detect emerging disruptions, which TfL said would provide staff with a more comprehensive insight into incidents unfolding across the transport network.

According to TfL, Immense simulation software offers the transport network and utility staff information on predicted congestion impacts, emission levels, and the safety impacts of planned roadworks.

The contacts with Samdesk and Immense are being funded by TfL’s Lane Rental scheme, which charges companies for digging up London’s busiest roads at times that cause the most disruption to people’s journeys. TfL said this money is then invested in tackling congestion and minimizing the impact of roadworks and has saved £100m in lost travel time since the scheme started.

“London’s road network plays an absolutely vital role in keeping the capital moving, and we’re always looking for innovative ways of making our streets safer, smarter and more sustainable,” said Rikesh Shah, TfL’s head of commercial innovation. “Our RoadLab program has shown how the public and private sectors can work together to create intelligent solutions to London’s transport problems.

“The technology developed by both Samdesk and Immense builds on the great results we achieved following the research and development work during RoadLab. This delivered nine innovative solutions in 10 weeks – a great effort for both the public and private sectors which we hope to build on in future innovation challenges.”

The London RoadLab program was the first time TfL had used an innovation partnership procedure, a new procurement process to work with the private sector. This enabled it to find ways of tackling some of the challenges facing the capital. TfL said the procedure was developed to make it easier for the public sector to encourage innovation from startups or large companies without hampering competition or transparency.

TfL worked closely with Plexal, an innovation center based in London’s Olympic Park, to develop the program. “London RoadLab was an exciting way for a transport body to engage with the startup ecosystem and procure innovation,” said Plexal managing director Andrew Roughan. “Tech startups are capable of solving the big challenges facing society and improving our transport network. London RoadLab, and TfL’s commitment to open collaboration, is a fantastic blueprint for how cities and the public sector more broadly can engage with startups to source innovation.”

TfL is currently running trials of products developed during its second innovation challenge, FreightLab. This aims to tackle the problem of making goods movements in the capital safer, cleaner, and more efficient. TfL said it was working with industry partners including Royal Mail, John Lewis, and Thames Water to co-develop and trial their products.

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