Chris Holmes, Programme Director as Transport at West Midlands 5G, looks at the work completed as part of the West Midland’s 5G testbed and discusses the future of the project, where further trials of cutting edge technology promises to unlock further benefits to transport in the region.

Whilst 2020 can be described as a turbulent year for the transport sector, we reflect on WM5G’s achievements and journey to-date during a year like no other as we are beginning to look further into the future.

Last year, the West Midlands Combined Authority area was named the best-connected 5G region in the country by independent telecoms firm Umlaut.

This incredible achievement is testament to the hard work of my colleagues in our Infrastructure Acceleration team who have been working closely with local authorities and mobile network operators to accelerate the deployment of 5G masts across the West Midlands.

Their work has meant that we are now able to test and develop transport related products and services in a real world 5G connected environment.

Early 2020

In the first half of 2020, we worked with four organisations with a small budget to deliver four transport demonstrator trials to explore what 5G enabled services might look like.

Our work with technology start-up AppyWay saw the West Midlands become the first region in the UK to trial the concept of 5G-enabled identification of live kerbside parking availability using camera images from a passing vehicle. The results could lead to reduced journey times, lower emissions, and improved traffic flow.

We also partnered with global telecoms giant Ericsson to investigate how 4G and 5G cellular networks can provide privacy-enabled transport insights. Our Mast-as-a-Sensor trial demonstrated how to use existing infrastructure and turn it into sensors, using AI to produce real-time road traffic data.

In a similar project with smart sensor provider Vivacity Labs, we were able to show how 5G-enabled roadside cameras can accurately identify and classify vehicles in real-time. The additional insights on road and junction usage and behaviours create the possibility of better identifying how junctions and roads of the future can be designed and providing feedback for better traffic management in the West Midlands.

Our fourth project installed high-definition CCTV cameras on the region’s tram network as part of a trial with WM Metro, GoMedia and Icomera. We proved that data could be securely and remotely transferred by 5G from a tram while in operation, helping to improve incident management and increase passenger safety.

From September 2020

Having run a competition with Innovate UK’s help from April to June, in September we awarded £2.4m across seven UK-based consortia projects, supporting the development of new products and services to transform transport across the region.

These seven projects will deliver some exciting new products and services ranging from; an innovative traffic simulation and traffic control tool for the Local Authorities to use, two services geared at providing better safety and assurance for both travellers and operators and a passenger service that will allow more visually impaired people to travel on public transport – and more. You can read the full details of each of the seven projects and watch a video overview on the trials here.

We ran a second competition during late 2020 which closed in December. There are now six new grant funded projects with a shared grant value of £1.6m, who have all started their work to identify further use cases – another exciting set of products.

The six winning projects from the second round include; a 5G-enabled smart robot to help passengers at stations, improving occupancy detection on buses to inform operators and passengers to reducing overcrowding, door safe and remote autonomous vehicle monitoring, improvement of current operating systems to offer micro guidance to vulnerable passengers at stations, detection of rail track and powerline imperfections on rail and trams.

Set to take place over 12 months, the new projects include a minimum of three months user or product testing phase within the West Midlands.

Personally, I was delighted with the response to our funding competitions, both phases of which were heavily oversubscribed. WM5G is only awarding funding to projects that it truly believes – when proven – will transform transport within the region and provide tangible benefits for our citizens, businesses and public services.

Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) share our grand vision for the future of transport in the region and have ambitions plans, of which our workstream is a key component.

We are reinforcing the West Midlands’ position as one of the UK’s Transport Innovation hubs with the development work and trialling taking place across the seven combined authority areas in the West Midlands.

Road Sensor Network

In addition to the exciting and varied products and services derived from the early demonstration and competitions already described, we also started another major investment project in January 2020.

As a jointly funded project with TfWM a network of sensors is being deployed across the key roads in the West Midlands. Road traffic sensors, weather and emissions sensors using 5G and 5G IoT technology will explore the benefits that live data can bring to the better management of the roads in the region.

The first proof of concept phase has been delivered with many learnings about the sensors, their installation and the data provided. The main phase of the project is now just starting which will involve installing a larger number of sensors across a much wider geographical area. It’s a really exciting opportunity to see how our roads of the future can benefit from these new sensors.

The future

As lockdown rules ease and the public regain their confidence in using public transport once again will be paramount. Customers want to be able to count on different forms of transport to complete their journeys and we need to develop solutions that will enable them to experience this with confidence.

We look forward to seeing the trials develop in the coming months and sharing the results with our stakeholders and regional colleagues. We are really hopeful that many of these projects will succeed to deliver market ready products.

Over time, and as the West Midlands 5G network grows we will see more applications and trials prove tangible benefits and scalable products and services which could well become established parts of our society. It’s incredibly exciting and at WM5G, we’re delighted to be pioneering this vision for the future.

Working with me to deliver these innovations are three very experienced Project Managers, Chris Deakin, Martin Thirlaway and David Connor. Together we have a range of engineering and product delivery and project management experience spanning many years. We enjoy working with our varied consortium partners and are supporting 30 SME’s and six universities in these projects.

How to get involved

There are a range of seminars and discussion forums we will be participating in if you are interested to hear more.

Do get in touch with us through our website if you would like to pursue a new technology idea or engage with the 5PRING accelerator, open to business and public sector organisations. The Accelerator is available to experience a live 5G network and work with innovators to unlock new services. If your business is in the transport sector and looking to test, prove and scale new 5G services, then I encourage you to register your interest with 5PRING