From research funding for artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, to a commitment to deliver driverless vehicles on Britain’s roads by 2021, this was the most tech-friendly budget in living memory.
Yet, Philip Hammond’s extensive list of proposals were formed from economic necessity rather than a desire to generate favourable headlines.
Indeed, the need to beef-up Britain’s digital infrastructure to generate jobs and enable businesses to thrive forms a central part the government’s growth strategy.
Nowhere is this strategy more important than in our major cities. Around the world these are the hubs of economic growth, where reports estimate that 80% of global GDP is generated.
In addition, the global market for smart city solutions and the supporting services required to deploy them is predicted to reach $408 billion by 2020.
Great cities like London, Manchester and Birmingham serve as beacons of innovation, attracting start-ups, entrepreneurs and international companies.
However, this record can only continue if our cities are properly equipped with the right connectivity, digital infrastructure and most crucially, transport.
Britain’s cities cannot compete economically without a smart transport infrastructure in place. Enabling the smooth flow of people, goods and services is vital to this effort.
In a recent statement, Transport Minister John Hayes said: “We want the UK to be the best place in the world to do business and a leading hub for modern transport technology.” This is a positive outlook and signals a major opportunity for both the transport and technology sectors. First though, we need to face up to some home truths.
Global businesses looking to invest and open up offices will think again if our roads our congested and our trains are overcrowded. Truly smart cities will only be recognised if they demonstrate they have tackled these problems and can offer the kind of efficiencies expected in the future global marketplace
So whilst much attention has been given to the rise of autonomous vehicles, little has been said about the urgent need for reform, fresh thinking and digital innovation in the rail sector.
>See also: Building a smart city in the connected age
Ask any commuter travelling into London what they think of the train service they experience. Few have positive things to say, and with congestion, delays and cancellations becoming commonplace, it’s easy to see why this is the case. It doesn’t have to be this way.
For too long the rail industry has lagged behind other transport sectors like automotive and aviation in terms of big thinking and bright ideas about how to improve customer experiences. This needs to change.
Upgrading our rail network with the latest digital solutions is a big business. Pike Research estimates a global market for smart transport solutions based on digital infrastructure to be $4.5 billion by next year.
Providing good quality rail services into Britain’s cities will also help ease chronic congestion on the road network, reduce emissions and pollution. It’s the logical step forward to making smart cities cleaner and more environmentally friendly.
Network Rail’s Digital Railway strategy has some positive proposals to deliver modern digital signalling and train control systems, but even more can be done. The rise of big data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT) have a critical role to play in smart city transport systems.
Just imagine how customer experiences could be transformed for the better with real time, route wide control management software in place. The extra accountability and satisfaction from Wi-Fi enabled carriages and apps that can keep commuters up to date on the status of services so they can plan ahead.
It’s also critical that smart city development is considered in terms of the entire commuter journey. From the moment they leave the house, catch a train, a taxi or cycle into work, each journey is unique to the individual.
Connected devices and IoT technology will help train operators and traffic authorities to better manage journeys, reducing congestion and increasing resources during peak travel times. So, as the technology industry prepares itself to enable a new wave of connected city investment, it’s critical that transport infrastructure sits at the heart of this mission.
There can be no delays or false starts. It’s time we started delivering more accountable, connected high quality transport systems to commuters. Doing so won’t only drive economic growth, it will unlock the potential of millions of workers and help create a smart city model of which the UK can be truly proud.
Sourced by Adam Perry, director at Resonate