The Transport Technology Research and Innovation Grants (T-TRIG) programme from the Department for Transport welcomed its latest cohort of organisations in a webinar hosted by Connected Places Catapult on Tuesday 31 March.
Each of the cohort’s 30 applicants received around £30k to develop their innovative early-stage transport product or service and prepare their business to support the future of transport. Along with a distinguished panel, over 80 guests joined the webinar.
In the last five years, the Department for Transport’s (DfT) Transport Technology Research and Innovation Grants programme (T-TRIG) which also supports the Future of Transport (formerly Future of Mobility) Industrial Strategy Grand Challenge, has provided £5.5m of grants to support over 170 projects, across the breadth of the transport technology spectrum.
The programme has delivered great technological successes, including an electric HGV range extender, a station navigation app for the visually impaired, drone navigation collision avoidance technology and electric cargo delivery bikes. To date, more than £25m of follow-on investment has been secured by cohort alumni after delivering successful T-TRIG projects – a return of £5 for every £1 invested by government.
Hosted by James Tichler, Science and Innovation Strategy Lead at the DfT Office for Science, James opened the webinar by highlighting the quality of the concepts and organisations applying for the grants.
Rachel Maclean MP joins T-TRIG webinar
On the webinar we were joined by a fantastic group of transport innovation leaders in transport, starting with Rachel Maclean MP, Minister for the Future of Transport. Rachel is a successful entrepreneur having co-founded a HR-software business which gives SMEs access to the latest technological tools to help them run their businesses more efficiently. She told the attendees of her delight to be part of this important project. Recognising the challenges we face today, the minister championed the importance of the future of transport and acknowledged the exciting developments emerging through T-TRIG’s key themes; supporting decarbonising the transport system, potholes, resilient infrastructure, and age-friendly and accessible transport.
Professor Phil Blythe, Chief Scientific Adviser for the DfT, spoke of boosting the UK’s R&D budget, iterating that he’s never known another time in our history when science and technology had been in so much demand. Phil reported that the government is set to increase R&D innovation investment from 1.7% to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, a pledge that is articulated in the DfT’s Science Plan. Phil’s role is to ensure science is being effectively used to grow the UK’s transport industry and drive new policymaking through innovation. Recognising the wide group of organisations that need to work together to deliver the future of transport, Phil said: “Transport doesn’t stop at the edge of DfT.”
CPC’s T-TRIG involvement point of personal pride for CEO
Nicola Yates OBE, Chief Executive Officer of Connected Places Catapult (CPC), used her speaking slot to highlight the importance of the T-TRIG programme and its role within the UK’s transport innovation funding landscape and the pride she personally feels at CPC’s involvement. T-TRIG is particularly significant because despite being domain-focussed it but can be accessed by both university groups looking to prove a concept and SMEs who are developing new products and services that meet today’s transport challenges. T-TRIG will pave the way for its recipients to prepare to apply for other grant funding and commercial opportunities, and subsequently, drive the growth of disruptive products and services into the transport market. CPC plays a vital role in helping to identify and develop opportunities for innovators and disruptors, acting as a neutral convener to forge collaboration and using our unique technical capability and market sector expertise to match opportunities with the organisations who are best placed to use them most effectively.
Despite the restrictions in force as a response to the coronavirus outbreak, CPC continues to win business. This is great for the SME community, which will play a crucial role in all of these projects, as will CPC’s technical capabilities (in areas including drones, aviation, modelling, data science, digital transformation, the built environment and planning), which will be key to supporting economic growth for the country as we look forward to life post-COVID19.
CPC works with many large organisations such as Highways England, HS2 and Network Rail. We welcome being part of the ecosystem working closely with the Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) and his team. CPC fervently protects its non-competitive place in the market to give the CSA the best impartial advice. For example, we helped select the T-TRIG successful organisations supporting the DfT initiative.
T-TRIG case studies: Alchera Technologies and Vivacity Labs
Anna Jordan, Co-Founder & Operations Lead at Alchera Technologies delivered the webinar’s first case study on how T-TRIG helps support the successful commercialisation of technology within the transport sector. Alchera’s cloud-based AI software, Alpha, powers enterprise-grade intelligent mobility and infrastructure applications. It provides road network operators and commercial users with absolute, real-time data on vehicle and pedestrian movements around cities and major infrastructure at extreme scale. Alpha operates with greater coverage, lower cost and with greater reliability than any existing solutions by fusing together existing sensor networks (eg CCTV, IoT, mobile, connected car, etc) to build an enriched comprehensive single data feed and delivering first-of-a-kind city scale, real-time digital twins. Alchera recently graduated from CPC’s Intelligent Mobility Accelerator programme.
As a previous recipient of T-TRIG funding, Peter Mildon, Chief Operating Officer of Vivacity Labs, delivered the second case study. Vivacity was a T-TRIG winner, which was instrumental in supporting the company’s development and growth. Vivacity Labs is revolutionising how transport is managed. Its award-winning artificial intelligence technology gathers data on transport systems, to capture, classify and track live transport usage, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The service helps cities become smarter, more sustainable and safer using cutting-edge technology and has gained attention from media across the world. Transport for London (TfL) and the local authorities for Milton Keynes, Salford and Oxford are all benefitting from the data collected, including a new feature to measure social distancing, which can track how people are adapting to the governments COVID-19 guidelines in a variety of locations over time.
T-TRIG questions answered
One highlight of the webinar was the panel discussion, during which attendees were invited to put their questions to the Rachel Maclean MP, Professor Blythe and Nicola Yates OBE. The minister was asked about what challenges she had faced as an entrepreneur. While in a different market developing HR software, she faced the learning curve of moving to technology from a non-IT background as she developed the business. A particular challenge was building a team to get the right people in the right job and keeping them suitably motivated. While exhausting, the minister enjoyed the excitement of running a small business.
Nicola was asked how she sees DfT and CPC working together going forward. In response, Nicola made reference to the additional funding Professor Blythe mentioned earlier and how it will open doors to new opportunities for developing transport innovation. She also said more education is needed for buyers in tier one organisations and that all market players will need to support this. Concluding, Nicola also said that any funding needs to be maximised to ensure it demonstrates the best return on investment.
The panel was also asked about the response to COVID-19. Professor Blythe commented that people have adapted to alternative transport solutions, such as walking, rather than using public transport. The DfT report daily on the transport system and he said we need to look at ensuring we can adapt further to improve the climate. Nicola added that we will see new habits when we emerge from the crisis, which was supported by the minister, who added that the way we commute to work will change now as we see flexible and remote working more widely accepted by employers. It was also noted that the transport decarbonisation plan was released this week.
Utopian transport system
Host James Tichler posed the final question to the panel. He asked them what they would change about the UK’s current transport systems if money was no object. Nicola said she would want to see greater access to data from all the transport ecosystem. Professor Blythe would join transport modes and decarbonise vehicles, and the minister would massively accelerate the shift to electric vehicles, bringing the net-zero CO2 deadline forward by increasing subsidies.
Following on from the panel, we heard from Rob Furlong, Knowledge Transfer Manager (Transport Systems). Rob specialises in connected transport at the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN); looking holistically across all modes of transport to help make intelligent mobility a reality. The KTN is a free service that supports both academic and commercial organisations to share knowledge and collaborate. It also helps source funding, support funding applications, develop and manage special interest groups and the industrial strategy challenge.
CPC’s Director of SME Development Alex Weedon was next to speak. Alex explained how SMEs have grown since being part of the T-TRIG funding. He also gave a broad overview of the SME programme available at CPC, including the hugely successful Intelligent Mobility Accelerator, which to date has secured almost £37m in investment and facilitated around 30 commercial trials for SMEs.
Last to speak was Adam Webb, CPC’s Head of Bids and Tenders. Adam offered advice on applying for CR&D funding, which attractively for small businesses is equity-free. Although highly competitive with low rates of success, the chance of success of securing grant funding is increased exponentially by collaborating with potential customers and/or universities.
James Tichler closed the webinar thanking everyone for their support and wishing the new T-TRIG family great success. Lots of further advice and support is available from Adam, Alex and Rob (and their respective organisations). To get in touch with them, please reach out to us at CPC.
For more details on the T-TRIG programme, click below.
And for details on this year’s winners visit the GOV.UK page.