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Live Labs Blog: Top Marks for Collaboration

2 November 2020

To deliver cutting edge innovations, our Live Labs have turned to a wide range of partners, including those in academia. Collaborating with universities has offered many benefits for all involved.   

Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) has partnered with Birmingham City University (BCU) as part of the Network Resilience Live Lab. BCU is developing an analytics algorithm which will be able to identify vehicle class – car, van, bus, HGV etc – giving an overview of vehicle mix as well as tracking travel patterns, using an off-the-shelf CCTV camera. Identifying these patterns will enable routes to be developed that may differ from those defined by the region’s Key Route Network.

This collaboration is also offering value beyond the delivery of the algorithm. The university will be able to go beyond the standard proof-of-concept level that academic software is normally developed to. Instead, developers are gaining experience of constructing software to a level close to being production ready, allowing for some additional testing and modifications.

Partnership with the university means TfWM will be able to understand the requirements needed to perform video analytics, and ultimately, to help public sector clients make more informed decisions when negotiating with private sector companies. The research capability also gives TfWM a platform that allows for experimentation with camera analytics in different scenarios and to benchmark the performance of off-the-shelf systems.

In other projects, academic partners are embedded throughout the innovation process and support multiple workstreams. For example, the University of Reading (UoR) is a key strategic partner for the Thames Valley Berkshire Live Lab, advising on the overall evaluation of project deliverables. Additionally, the university is providing a much more in depth role, offering academic expertise and capitalising on the opportunity for knowledge transfer with other related research projects. 

As part of the smart energy workstream, the university is supporting trials of energy management solutions being implemented by Smarter Grid Solutions (SGS). These include local authority pilot sites managing assets including solar PV generation and electric vehicle chargers which aim to reduce carbon emissions and lower costs. Working with SGS, O2 and Stantec, the UoR will use modelling capability to analyse and report on the potential for scaling-up the trial solutions to regional and national levels. 

Within the Thames Valley Live Lab air quality workstream, the UoR is working closely with Stantec and the local authorities to develop trial objectives and define the locations for 30 new EarthSense units. These are air quality sensor units supplied and installed by Siemens to measure pollutants, temperature and humidity in real time. The University will be key to evaluating the data and outcomes against these set objectives, including improving air quality and developing citizen information strategies to influence public behaviour. 

For some Live Labs, collaboration is going beyond the research capability that academia can provide. The Suffolk Live Labs project team are working closely with the University of Suffolk and Proving Services. The university researcher is evaluating proposed sensors and working with various stakeholders to identify the location for installation that will provide the greatest learning. Following installation, the researcher will obtain and analyse data from multiple streams to identify trends and compile a report and corresponding business case for each sensor used on the project.

This workstream has also become an opportunity for those not directly involved with the Live Labs. In consultation with the Suffolk team, anonymised data from the programme will be used to form part of one local student’s research project. A hackathon is also being developed by the University to invite stakeholders and industry experts to analyse and use the data.

Meanwhile in Cumbria, partners WSP are in discussion the University of Nottingham regarding research into the combined properties of bitumen and plastic additives used in the construction of their ‘plastic roads’. This will draw upon the University’s expertise and research capability to ensure that any potential future materials used can be benchmarked against the results of these trials.

To design, fabricate and test smart roads that generate electricity from passing vehicles, the ‘SMART Connected Community’ Live Lab in Buckinghamshire has turned to researchers from the Department of Engineering within the University of Lancaster. In this ambitious project, roadside battery units to store harvested electricity will be designed, and their performance monitored.   

The partnerships formed between local authorities, private sector industry and universities epitomise the innovative and collective nature of the Live Labs programme. The Labs are sharing learning across all projects, with many new advantages still being discovered!