MILTON KEYNES: THE UK launched the Imovation Centre on Thursday, an attempt to bring together creative innovators and industry leaders to improve the country's transport infrastructure.
The company behind the venture, the Transport System Catapult (TSC) quango, a group established by the Technology Strategy Board, has claimed that the Imovation Centre, which supposedly stands for "intelligent mobility and innovation", will aim to "transform the movement of people and goods around the world".
The goal is to help make transport smarter in the years ahead and generate £90bn per year come 2025.
We had a tour of the hub, which lies in the heart of the gloriously vibrant city of Milton Keynes, a location that is bound to get people jumping out of their seats to visit. Nevertheless, we were rather impressed with the space.
The entrance leads you into an open public exhibition area where many demonstrations were taking place. These are likely to change from time to time depending on the projects that take shape there, but for the moment the demonstrations we were shown will be there for the next few weeks while the opening festival takes place.
The Imovation Centre will be a collaboration space, where innovators, entrepreneurs, research organisations and businesses will look to improve transportation of people and goods in the UK using the latest developments in information technology. It will also serve as a testing ground where new products can be trialed and demonstrated. It's worth noting however, that Catapult didn't seem to have an solid ideas on what we are likely to see rolled out across the country, nor how the money will be spent, but the body is hoping it will encourage innovators to use the centre as a place to collaborate and push ideas using open source data and analytics from companies such as ICOworld, data visualization firm 422South and Transport for London (TfL).
Hence the demonstrations that were taking place on the launch day were more focused on the data the centre is exhibiting and how this can be used to encourage creative minds to think of new ideas and make UK transport smart and connected, utilising the Internet of Things to make it more efficient and convenient for travelers.
Demonstrations presented at the Imovation Centre included a table with a high-resolution touchscreen display built into it, which displayed a map of the city of Manchester, most likely to show how the centre is looking to change transport nationwide and not just in the capital.
The displayed map, which uses real data to project the travel of cars, buses and bikes, interacts with themed markers with logos that represent different environmental effects on a person's daily commute, such as "Bad Weather" and "Road Closure". Moving these markers onto the map changes the dynamics of the traffic movement and provides alternatives for a family making their way to the office via a school, for example. The alternatives also suggest how much better or worse a route will be for the environment, how much more or less time it will take and the costs.
Catapult said that this system can be used as a future journey planning tool and technology so users can better predict a convenient means of transport when environmental factors arise, or as a technology that helps travelers choose more environmentally routes and cost-saving commutes on a long term basis, no matter their location.
Another demonstration visualises the data of people traveling in and out of a train station and how stressed they feel depending on the level of crowding. The data flow can be controlled with a joypad and allowed us to see the impact of entrance closures at the station could have on the mood of the people in the vicinity. The idea of this is that the data can be used as research to test possible layouts of future transport hubs or stations to ensure they are built in the best way possible both socially and efficiently.
We spoke to Catapult's CTO, Paul Zanelli, who told us in an interview that the centre's aim is to make data as open as possible so planning, modelling and simulation can take place.
Zanelli said that one of the centre's main goals is to bring digital ticketing to all bus and train routes across the UK, similar to the way London's Oyster card works, to eliminate the need to buy tickets at the station, keep hold of them and make sure you don't lose them to then show a conductor. Catapult agreed that the UK transport infrastructure is run in a very old fashioned way, and using paper ticketing is both stressful and inconvenient for travellers, so hopefully this will be one of the innovations that we will see come out of the centre before 2025, possibly with integration of the Internet of Things, Zanelli said.
Towards the end of our visit, we also took the time to nose around the centre's office space, where all the idea making and work will transpire. We were rather amazed by the size and layout of the space, which is well lit with lots of glass, minimal colours and clean lines.
We can imagine that it will be a great place for bringing new ideas to fruition, especially the Ideas Lab - a big open room with portable white boards and views of open greenery - which will serve as a brain-storming pad for staff and partners to converge and deliberate ways to advance the UK's transport infrastructure into more technologically sound service. µ