A seemingly ground-breaking government-funded initiative to accelerate innovation in the roads sector has published its latest white paper, looking at the role of digital tools, platforms and data in this area, and some of the outstanding challenges.
The document, from ADEPT (Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Places and Transport), presents recent progress in the SMART Places Live Labs programme. The latest in a series of quarterly white papers being produced from one-to-one discussions with the local authority project leads, this one – titled ‘Digital’ – looks at the rollout of the digital-led aspects of the initiative.
The first white paper covered the mobilisation phase of the projects.
The two-year, £22.9million DfT-funded Live Labs initiative grew out of a desire to accelerate innovation in the local roads sector, says ADEPT. “This has rapidly developed to encompass use of data, SMART materials and energy, resulting in innovative pilots ranging from using drones to identify potholes and recycled plastic in road surfacing, to installing geo-thermal probes to de-ice carparks and heat buildings.”
Each Live Lab is unique but the role of digital tools, platforms and data has emerged as a common thread, says the group. Much of the innovation being trialled comes in the form of new technology such as sensors that monitor air quality, road surface temperatures, gullies and traffic movement. Collected data is typically fed into dashboards and wider networks that exchange data with other systems.
The aim of both the data-gathering technology and the central platforms is to source and consolidate multiple streams of raw data to support automated decision-making that will improve efficiency for things like gritting roads, repairing potholes or planning routes. However, the potential for these digital innovations seemingly goes beyond traffic and road infrastructure management, with one Live Lab looking at how it can be integrated into social care provision.
Existing technology and infrastructure can also play a key role, and some of the Live Labs are partnering with external organisations to collect data. For example, in one area the existing camera system is being used to automatically analyse video to detect and determine traffic events such as average journey times, while another is using the data service of a mobile phone provider for more efficient transport network management.
Sourcing the right skills to deliver the digital and data-led aspects of the trials has been a challenge. The level of specialist expertise required typically doesn’t already exist within local authorities and public sector pay bands make recruitment difficult for positions that command a high wage. Where recruitment or up-skilling in-house have not been an option, the Live Labs teams have had to look at different ways of bringing in right skills – a number have collaborated with private and academic partners, which they say has been imperative to success. Many are keen to keep the partnerships working beyond Live Labs and there is an ambition to provide a source of learnings and best practice, for different needs and capabilities, for local authorities across the UK to tap in to.
Neil Gibson, Chair of the Live Labs Commissioning Board, said: “ADEPT set up Live Labs to enable local authorities to deploy digital transformation as part of the local roads network. The publication of the Digital white paper is part of our commitment to sharing our findings with the sector.
“As we move into the final stretch, we can see the programme is offering new possibilities for highways and local roads. I am pleased to see it is becoming so much more, with uses being found in adult social care and opportunities to be explored across decarbonisation, education and health. Live Labs is enabling us to redesign how we use data to enable better real time decision-making, and potentially, how we can create better partnerships through rethinking our procurement, legal and financial systems.”
Live Labs Programme Director, Giles Perkins said: “Each Live Lab encompasses a range of different projects and approaches, but all are driven to some extent by data and technological innovations. Through this latest white paper we are keen to capture and share the common opportunities and challenges.
“The ultimate ambition of Live Labs is to discover innovations that will revolutionise services for local authorities across the country and it is exciting to see the developing business cases demonstrating that the data being collected is valuable and useful. The trials are starting to show direct and visible benefits that will help to ensure our communities are as healthy and safe as possible.”
ADEPT represents local authority, county, unitary and metropolitan Directors. The Live Labs initiative is part of ADEPT’s SMART Places programme to support the use of digital technology in place-based services.
The eight Live Labs are being led by Buckinghamshire County Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, Cumbria County Council, Reading Borough Council, Suffolk County Council, alongside joint projects by Solihull Council and Birmingham City Council (West Midlands), and Kent and Staffordshire County Councils. The programme is supported by project partners SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business, EY, Kier, O2, Ringway and WSP.
The quarterly papers are intended to make learnings and insights available as they happen, giving industry decision-makers the opportunity to capitalise on the work being done through the programme.
The white paper, ‘Digital’ can be found on the ADEPT website: https://www.adeptnet.org.uk/adept-live-labs-white-paper-2