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Startups provide TfL with AI and simulation to keep London moving

Transport for London has awarded contracts to two startups to deliver new technology to support the capital’s road network

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

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

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 utilities staff with 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 minimising 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 programme has shown how the public and private sectors can work together to create smart 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 – an astounding effort for both the public and private sectors which we hope to build on in future innovation challenges.”

The London RoadLab programme 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 centre based in London’s Olympic Park, to develop the programme.

“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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