Back in December 2021, seven finalists were awarded £5,000 development grants and given three months to develop their ideas in competition for the final grant of up to £150,000.
The final winner – or winners – of the £150,000 fund will be celebrated at an invitation-only Gala Reception on 28 March 2022, at Prince Philip House, home of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Carlton House Terrace, St James’s, London.
The competition – which was run last year for the first time – attracted an amazing 142 entries, which especially pleased the Trustees.
Says Ginny Clarke, Rees Jeffreys Road Fund Trustee and Chair of the Judging panel: ‘This year was the first time we’ve run a competition of this kind. The idea was to celebrate 150 years since the birth of our benefactor William Rees Jeffreys, and for the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund Trustees to reach out and connect with the innovation, thought leadership and creativity that is helping to answer our key competition question:
What’s your vision of the way in which our roads (motorways, highways, or streets and footways) could best work for us all as we square up to the challenges of the next 50 years??
‘It was especially refreshing to hear from some new voices to the sector. The discussions we had during the judging sessions were of real benefit to us in widening our appeal to new thinkers, and in showing us the breadth and depth of innovative thinking from those concerned with our future roads and streets.’
As Trustees, added Ginny, we will be reaching out to many new individuals and organisations in future, several of who came to our notice through this Competition.
‘We are trying to build on the steps that we've achieved with widening our communications and awareness in the transport and planning sectors,’ she says. ‘We want lots of applicants, because our role is to give out funds. But we also want new applicants that are well suited to the objectives of the fund.’
There may be new directions for the RJRF Trustees to take in future. David Tarrant, Chairman of the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund, says: ‘We are not about funding highways or bridges, or resurfacing the driveways of community centres. We tend to attract smaller projects that reflect what people can achieve in the short term. We’re keen to strengthen the breadth of what we cover, for example technology, but with the focus on the delivery of outcomes that make journeys more convenient,enjoyable and accessible.’ And of course there is the RJRF programme of educational funding – bursaries for post-graduate students – that will be continued and expanded in the coming years, he adds.
This inaugural RJRF Competition has seen the Trustees deliver a mentoring service for finalists, which has been hugely popular and will inform those future directions.
Says David: ‘I think the key for me is that we need, and will continue to need, Trustees who want to be active and are enthusiastic about getting involved. We are aiming to be more involved, to be willing to help and to help make the necessary connections. And it's been very worthwhile.
‘We’re also hoping that we can work more generally as a fund, exploring where key priorities are with applicants and partners. We’re being proactive, talking with people and asking, what's important to you? For us, it’s definitely about quality as well as quantity.’
There is also a difference between projects and proposals that come from organisations within the sector and those outside, for example schools, individuals and SMEs, who are often pitching ideas without a great deal of deep knowledge across our sector, says David.
‘During this competition, we’ve been active in suggesting collaborations and making new introductions so that, where we see potential, we can encourage people to work together for mutual benefit.
‘We’ll be looking at widening the type of activities we support in future, but for now we’re homing in on those existing groups that we've already connected with through the Competition and otherwise, to make sure that we get the best out of all that potential and help to bring those ideas to fruition. And I’m really keen to stress that while we look at the big picture, it's projects aligned to our values, rather than specific themes or topics, that we’re interesting in developing.’
For the seven finalists – actually six as two parties opted to join forces and work together – this competition has been different from those funding pots and grants they normally apply for. In fact few of the 142 applicants had a fully-formed project in mind for its initial application, and the Competition format actively encouraged the notion of ideas-sharing, creativity and innovation.
In December, the RJRF decided to award seven entrants grants of £5,000 to further develop their ideas. All the shortlisted entries can be seen here
Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA)
Cycle Smart: a vision for safer and better cycling
This project uses technology from cyclists' bike lights, which also act as bicycle sensors, to predict where collisions involving cyclists are likely to occur, and then puts in place measures to prevent them.
Augmented reality and its potential to enhance collaboration in the planning process
The development of an augmented reality app would increase engagement, reducing time-consuming consultation periods, therefore giving more people the opportunity to speak out and share their views on plans.
Developing ethical goal functions for road use
Connected and autonated vehicle (CAV) behaviour should be directed using ‘ethical goal functions’ (EGFs). This concept embeds the ethical interests of society into functions against which CAV developers can optimise the performance of their systems; developing and assessing these behaviours in simulation before deploying vehicles on real roads.
Eloy Connected Vehicle Platform
Connected vehicle services are vital for road innovation and should be incorporated into SATNAV systems and existing in-vehicle experiences. This project would build a connected vehicle partner platform, enabling partners to use Eloy’s technology to create their own new services and so reduce R&D cost, complexity and the need for testing.
Phil Carey Consulting
Wistle: working to improve the single-track lane experience
A proposal for a new management regime for the many UK minor roads not wide enough for two vehicles to easily pass each other. Wistle uses the functionality of basic vehicle-to-vehicle communication, combined with data and detailed mapping, to alert vehicles to safe passing options.
Rainbow Routes to School
Children’s journeys to school should be enjoyable, safe and healthy. This project builds on existing air-quality monitoring in local schools and embeds 'rainbow routes' within a new research project collecting smartphone app-based data on active travel. The aim is to close data gaps and speed up interventions that favour safe, active and independent travel for children.
NEW SURFACES (Novel Engineering Ways to Soften Urban Roads, Footways And Cars to Enhance Safety)
This concept aims to identify priority accident spots and replace current hard surfaces (steel, concrete and asphalt) with dynamic materials that change under different loads to soften impacts on roads and footways.
According to the final six, this has been a very human-scaled competition. Most of the successful applicants typically make major bids to schemes that offer large funding pots, but have little direct connection to people.
The RJRF finalists have devoted their £5,000 grant funding to connecting with communities, both professional and stakeholder, to explore ways of embedding their ideas into actionable outcomes.
Eloy is a case in point. Says Damian Horton, Co-CEO at Eloy: ‘We came to the conclusion that the RJRF is about serving people who wouldn't be captured by other traditional mechanisms. What was interesting for us was the local, community-based traffic challenges that would usually get ignored because they're just too difficult to develop solutions for. We opted to take the route of community-based connected services that we could build into our app.’
'Thanks to our mentor, we connected with finalist Phil Carey, who was working on a relevant piece of work around virtual traffic lights. Traffic lights are very expensive to install, especially for relatively lightly trafficked country lanes. So we said – why don't we cooperate? Phil had a really nice use case that fitted really well with our focus on digital community-based traffic management solutions that can be delivered at low cost and outside of the major network.'
Anna Corp, Co-CEO at Eloy added: ‘We're a fairly young business. We've spent the last couple of years looking at big problems and big challenges that have really big solutions. What the RJRF competition has helped us to do is focus on the massive community of people, particularly people who live in rural areas where there's little public transport, who are pretty much being ignored. So we want to help them become empowered as a new direction in our business.’
Finalist Gemma Bridge agrees that the competition process has been people-focused. ‘Since December I’ve been meeting with local councils, researchers, members of the public, planners and software developers, to see how augmented reality can be brought to life in the realm of public consultations and as part of the planning process,’ she says.
‘The conversations I've had have all expressed the challenges with the current process, so making plans come to light through augmented reality is something that is definitely feasible and that both planners and members of the public are keen to explore. Augmented reality can be really quick and accessible, with feedback given straightaway.
‘I really liked the way that this competition was organised. It was open to everybody and it allowed me to be creative. The support from my mentor was incredible as I am from a background that's not highways focused. My background is in research, so I'm very used to doing grant proposals with no financial backing at all. Having the £5,000 funding has given me the time to really explore the area, and I'm much more invested in the project than I would be otherwise. I'm keen on enabling people to contribute. There's a lot of scope to bring this idea into existing projects.’
Finalist Nick Reed also used his grant to connect with people. ‘I carried out a large survey asking how much the respondents agreed or disagreed with particular statements around the ethics of connected and automated vehicle (CAV) operation. My next steps would be a much deeper dive into the topic with an expert group and with citizens affected by the deployment of automated vehicles.
‘The human side of CAVs is an underappreciated topic at present, but when you think about the 50 year timescale that this competition covers, it will definitely be highly relevant to really get a sense of how the technology will work, and how it will provide benefits to the communities affected. I'm not sure anyone's ever asked for CAVs to happen, and they are usually sold on the premise of improving safety. So let's make sure people are up for these developments, and that they understand the consequences of what might happen if they are introduced.’
Finalist Professor Enoch also invested his grant in people: in building a consortium of colleagues and representative groups to undertake a feasibility around new road surfaces from a user acceptance, as well as a technical, road safety and economic, perspective. This would be followed by a road map of how to scale the project.
Our plan is to build a case for government around user acceptance. What sort of surfaces would people want, what would make them more attractive politically? He says: ‘We need to identify the key factors in the discussion and to decide if the plan is worthwhile and, if it is, where we focus resources using a hotspot analysis and road safety data. This would result in an ‘implementation roadmap’ for local authorities, plus a community toolkit.
‘For us the mentoring aspect of the Competition was really useful, especially sharing knowledge and helping us to understand what Rees Jeffreys would have been looking for.’
Says finalist Becky Needham from RoSPA: ‘We thought it would be great to invest the grant funds in a video, because it’s a reusable resource that can help to explain how our project could work, and how it can benefit cities. We put a great deal of effort into making the video representative of a range of potential cycling situations and involved cyclists from diverse backgrounds. Through this process, we also identified which cities that we wanted to use in any future pilot scheme.’
‘From my point of view, the webinar at launch of the competition was really useful. Our mentor has also helped us to focus on the human element of a tech-based scheme: William Rees Jeffreys said that the best way to survey a city is from a bike, and I really liked the fact that the entries were encouraged to respect his values.’
‘We could feel the genuine spirit and the interest of the Trustees coming through in all our discussions, which we found really inspiring.’
All the finalists mentioned that this competition has given them the opportunity to source funding that they wouldn’t normally have had access to – once of the key aims of the Trustees.
Says Jenny Clark: ‘I found the competition offered a really interesting approach; I’ve never submitted a video in the first stage of a bid before.
‘Our project was quite advanced, with a consortium in place, and we’d hoped to use the £5000 pounds to make the next steps, because it's so difficult to get any funding for this kind of project. And what is available for school streets – and the rest of children’s journeys – is nowhere near enough.
‘We have to think bigger. For example, in Sheffield, the number of killed and seriously injured children between the ages of 0 and 15 is twice the average of English cities. School streets are great, but my children still can't walk to their friend's houses. A big part of the problem is that there's not enough data on pedestrians. We know about buses and cars and cyclists, but next to nothing about walking or multi-modal trips. Our project aims to set about getting accurate pedestrian data in a robust manner, and it’s great that competitions like this, where I don’t need to write a 20 page submission to get involved, can help with that aim.’
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