BridgeAI: helping the transport sector to a collaborative, low carbon and AI-enabled future

BridgeAI is an Innovate UK-funded programme, delivered by a consortium including Innovate UK, Digital Catapult, The Alan Turing Institute, STFC, Hartree Centre and BSI

Juliana O'Rourke
11 December 2023


BridgeAI kicked off in April 2023 and is now focused on AI solution development and R&D in four priority sectors, including transport, with £100 million in funding to be delivered by 2026. Any organisation wishing to receive programme updates should sign up here

Innovate UK BridgeAI will empower UK businesses, driving productivity and economic growth through the adoption of AI. Sara El Hanfy, Head of AI & Machine Learning, Innovate UK BridgeAI, says: "Our programme bridges the gap between developers and end users, fostering user-driven AI technologies. With a focus on ethics, transparency, and data privacy, we aim to build trust and confidence in the development of AI solutions."

Sara El Hanfy, Head of AI & Machine Learning, Innovate UK BridgeAI will be speaking at Transport AI 2024: reserve your place now

Although there is a booming AI sector in the UK, there is an uneven adoption on the demand and supply sides for products and services across different sectors. Transport is not, to be brutally honest, at the top of the leaderboard. On the supply side, more than 2,000 UK companies have AI in their strategic toolkit, most being from marketing and advertising, followed by fintech, consulting, data analytics and developers. Yet the transport sector is one that could potentially benefit greatly from further AI development, according to one of the initial BridgeAI reports.

And, as with many of today's pressing challenges, decarbonisation is at the top of many lists. AI can help decarbonise the sector by analysing traffic data and fuel consumption. In turn, this can enable more accurate route planning, traffic management, and fleet optimisation.

AI is being used, for example, to manaage traffic lights in Manchester; a UK first. Google has also revealed a trial is now underway designed to reduce so-called 'stop-go' emissions and improve the flow of traffic across the city. Google said it found that half of emissions at traffic intersections come from vehicles stopping and then starting again.

Limited supported places available in the Transport AI 2024 start up zone: apply now

The effective transportation of goods and people underpin UK economic activity, with 645 billion passenger kilometers travelled and 360 million tonnes of freight traded with the UK in 2021. "AI has the potential to transform all elements of the transport system," says El Hanfy, "maximising efficiencies and boosting productivity, whilst facilitating the transition to Net Zero."

the programme is about bringing together AI developers, the academic community and SMEs to co-create end user driven, trusted solutions

Asked what the first step should be for the transport sector in getting to grips with AI and its potential, El Hanfy says that "we're really keen for innovation to be driven by the transport sector itself.

"It would be wrong for Innovate UK to say which challenges organisations should be solving. Our work is helping AI developers from outside of the transport sector to better understand the opportunities.

"The way we've approached the programme is about bringing together AI developers, the academic community and SMEs to co-create end user driven, trusted solutions. We aim to bring the right stakeholders together, and help to break down barriers.

"Many AI companies gravitate towards the likes of healthcare or fintech because they they better understand these use cases. And so another aspect of the programme is raising awareness of the interesting challenges that exist in sectors such as transport."

BridgeAI has already run a few funding competitions, with another opening in March 2024. A transport accelerator programme will also open in 2024, via the Digital Catapult, so make sure you're signed up to find out more.

"Using our triage tool will help companies to identify which parts of the programme are right for them, depending on where they're at on their current innovation journey. We're very keen to bring different cohorts together where we can. Innovate UK / KTN is very much about making connections."

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