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Modelling Tomorrow's World: dealing with transport market disruption

Eifion Jenkins
The new shared space by Oxford railway station is, as ever, controversial: Modelling Tomorrow`s World will be exploring new shared space modelling techniques  based on the Mars Rover project
The new shared space by Oxford railway station is, as ever, controversial: Modelling Tomorrow`s World will be exploring new shared space modelling techniques based on the Mars Rover project


Transport is being disrupted at a rapid pace, and this creates uncertainty but also new business opportunities. Over the past few years the Transport Systems Catapult (TSC) has met many decision-makers who want to know what transport market disruption means for investing in infrastructure, place-making, vehicle manufacturing and city operations. We have also met with many academics, SMEs and entrepreneurs who have excellent ideas for innovations to take forward the opportunities that are opening up around us, says Eifion Jenkins, Pogramme Director, Transport Systems Catapult

The truth is that we don’t fully know the impact of market disruption. However, we have forecast an emerging £900bn per annum Intelligent Mobility market based on new technologies. There are now opportunities to adapt existing modelling tools, and to develop new modelling tools, to draw on new data and develop new techniques to help inform answers to emerging questions around Intelligent Mobility.

The TSC has now been in existence for three years. Early on, we identified modelling as playing a key role in informing decisions and supporting investment choices. Two years ago, we started to talk about autonomous vehicles, and today we are talking about Mobility as a Service (MaaS). These conversations are very quickly picking up pace – our MaaS event in September was highly oversubscribed. Modelling has a key role to play in enabling passage through this transitory period of uncertainty, and will support decisions now and into the future. In order to do this, we need  some really solid, robust tools and approaches suitable to tackle these challenges.

New mobility services such as Uber could put pressure on conventional public transport, as it becomes more affordable. I think local authorities are going to have to plan for the increase in new mobility services and enable these services to work with the city environment. Specifying precise pickup locations is usually very convenient for the traveller, but least convenient for operations! We are going to need to include this detail in our models. 

This period of disruption is really exciting. There is an opportunity for the transport modelling industry to evolve; and it is certainly also a challenge for modellers. We see the uncertainty around what the future looks like, and we are asked questions such as: Should I invest in expanding a road network, or will autonomous vehicles manage that additional demand? How do we model shared environments including autonomous vehicles, semi-autonomous vehicles, people and cyclists? What will the impact of Mobility as a Service be and how do we model it? How do we add in the operational transport layer into a building information model? How do we better understand the implications of travellers being picked up from any location though mobility service apps? Do we need a new generation of intelligent mobility models? If so, how do we achieve this I don't think the existing toolkit can fully answer all the questions that we are now being asked, and we need to respond to this crop of new questions with new thinking. 

We can do a lot with our existing toolkits, but maybe not as efficiently as we need to. Many software developers for example, are quite innovative and constantly developing. But, 30-year-old multi-modal models that were developed at massive cost in the 1980s, cost a fortune to run and are used once in a blue moon, may no longer be up to the job. But while it may be difficult to repurpose the models, much of the data and the information could be reused. But I expect quite a lot of new investment in models that we can build and run much more quickly. Where the investment and funding for building these new models is coming from, however, is not yet clear. That's the challenge. The TSC has not had the chance to answer these questions fully, but the MTW event is a good starting point for such discussions.

There are capabilities in models used outside of the transport sector that we may be able to translate, for example in the gaming industry. One of the things we'll also be looking at is modelling details at scale and integrating existing models together to get more value from the investment that public authorities have already put into their models. We will also look at high level architecture, a technique which allows different simulations and data sets to be shared. For a local authority which, over time, has built a series of different transport models, this technology, currently used in the defence sector (and which is open source) can allow modellers to 'stitch together' these different models so they can be integrated. We will be hearing about this at Modelling Tomorrow's World, along with a demonstration. 

In terms of other non-transport sectors, we have undertaken a joint project with the Science Technology Facilities Council, which is funded by the UK Space Agency, whose focus is looking at using the Mars Rover and implementing some of its modelling technology  to help us model shared space, and there will also be a demonstration of this on the day. Another theme is how we can better communicate what the models are saying through new visualisation and new techniques and the real power visualisation can have to bring our models to life. 

Like the next generation of massively multiplayer online games, shouldn’t the intelligent mobility models be persistent open environments that enable collaboration? Shouldn’t the models include interactions with other systems such as energy and the environment? How should transport models interface with BIM models which are, currently, void of people and modes of transport?

As a Catapult, we want to work with industry to facilitate the discovery of new opportunities in transport modelling, enable innovation and further develop a collaborative environment. The UK is already a world leader in this field, however we need to continue to innovate to support the emerging intelligent mobility market.

We see MTW as the start of an ongoing process and will be looking to follow on with focus groups based on the discussions that take place during the event. Visit ts.catapult.org.uk/Modellingtomorrowsworld to find out more. ?


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