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Live Labs blog: Expo round up

17 December 2021

On 1st December the Live Labs teams and their commercial partners, the Commissioning Board and other local authority and industry figures were finally able to meet in person at Derby County FC’s Pride Park Stadium for the long-awaited Live Labs Expo. Oscar Newlands, from the project team, provides a round up.

After Covid forced a virtual Expo in 2020, the chance to meet in person provided the perfect opportunity for attendees to learn about all that has gone into the Live Labs programme. Being able to see demonstrations of some of the technologies being delivered, talk to the teams, and discuss how we can shape the future of highways for the better made Live Labs come alive in a way that is so difficult to replicate virtually.

Neil Gibson, ADEPT Past President & Chair of the Live Labs Commissioning Board, kicked off proceedings by welcoming everyone and providing an overview of the programme to date, highlighting both the opportunities realised and the challenges faced, and reflecting on how “From a disparate group of local authorities, the programme has crystalised into a truly collaborative and supportive partnership between local government, commercial and academic partners, suppliers and the specialist SMEs who have been integral to bringing real, achievable innovation to each project.”

Neil’s welcome was followed by a ministerial address from Trudy Harrison MP, recently appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Transport (DfT), and two sessions of presentations from each of the Live Lab project leads. Each session involved four of the Live Lab representatives giving an overview of the learnings, benefits, and outcomes of their projects, with Richard Westcott, BBC Science and Technology Correspondent, facilitating a subsequent Q&A discussion. These Q&As covered a range of topics, including monitoring and evaluation, collaboration, scaling up, data collection, and public engagement.

Following a busy morning, lunchtime was an opportunity for everyone to network and explore the various SME innovation exhibitors and Live Labs stations dotted around the room. After lunch the attendees were split into small groups with 10 minutes to quiz each Live Lab in rotation. This enabled delegates to properly understand the innovations on offer – from composite lighting columns and plastic roads, to kinetic walkways and advanced modelling tools.

The afternoon saw a panel discussion bringing together representatives from national and sub-national transport bodies and project partners to answer the question: ‘What do you think the outcomes of the Live Labs programme mean for the highways sector?’ There was much optimism about the prospect of replicating the success of the Live Labs country-wide and a call to make innovation the norm, rather than a luxury, across the sector.

In his closing remarks, Programme Director, Giles Perkins, discussed the final steps for the Live Labs programme and how the outcomes could be carried forward into a ‘zero carbon’ Live Labs 2 programme with a focus on the increasingly urgent climate agenda. 

Throughout a long day bursting with activity, it was great to see the enthusiasm with which the Live Labs teams and their SME partners talked about their projects. After the shortened virtual format of the 2020 Expo, it was exciting to be able to enable longer, in-person conversations between all the attendees. Having developed a greater familiarity with the innovations happening across the sector, everyone finished the day in a buoyant mood, confident that our Live Labs will prove to be a model for other local, regional, and national authorities to learn from and replicate.

We would like to thank everyone that was able to attend and wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.