New research looks to transport users for solutions

Issue date: 13 October 2008


A group of transport users 'Ideas in Transit' is a new initiative which will look to transport users' experiences and creativity as a source of innovation to tackle the UK's transport problems.

The key to future transport solutions may lie in the way users of the various transport systems use information technology to meet the challenges they face in getting around.

Transport experts at the University of the West of England (UWE, Bristol) are leading the major national collaborative project, 'Ideas in Transit'. Partnering with Ito World Ltd, Ordnance Survey and the Ergonomics and Safety Research Institute at Loughborough University, the Centre for Transport & Society (UWE) is engaged in a five year project destined to question and perhaps change the way we think about transport.

Valued at £2m and funded by EPSRC, DfT and the Technology Strategy Board, as part of the 'Future Intelligent Transport Systems' initiative, 'Ideas in Transit' draws on the experiences of users, builds communities of innovators and supports best practice in advancing their resultant innovations to market.

As Stephen Hart, who leads the Technology Strategy Board's work on Intelligent Transport Systems and Services, explains, “The Future Intelligent Transport Systems initiative is an important strand of the Technology Strategy Board's work supporting and encouraging innovation in the transport sector. We are confident projects such as 'Ideas in Transit' will help to provide innovative solutions to the challenges facing the sector in the UK.”

'Ideas in Transit' finds user-led solutions to transport headaches by seeking out the ways in which individuals, groups and businesses use new technology to improve their transit. The solutions often revolve around websites, texting, blogs and e-mail and may over time lead to significant changes to patterns of travel.

This 'bottom-up' innovation is in stark contrast to the typical 'supplier led' approaches in the Transport sector; rather than starting with the capabilities of large commercial enterprises this new project will look to the users themselves. Firstly it finds co-operative, user-led behaviour based on the real challenges people face. It then helps progress the ideas which have more widespread applications via an incubator approach, providing support, a network and even funding to turn the ideas into market ready propositions.

Professor Glenn Lyons (Centre for Transport and Society, UWE) the project leader explains, “It's a bit like watching children play with their toys – they often find new and unanticipated uses for things. When we apply the same principle to the way people use technology, we find that they can come up with new uses and practical applications not thought of before.

“An example might be when thousands of football fans converge on a single spot at the same time and find ways of using new technology to find solutions to their transport needs. As fans they are already connected through a shared interest, and with various means of communication amongst them possibilities can arise for a user-led solution to the transport challenges they face attending matches.

“Some commercial enterprises have already found ways to use new technology for example by linking people in 'text' groups so they can share taxis more efficiently and safely. Other applications include the http://www.openstreetmap.org which is a free editable map of the world to which users can contribute.

“For this research we are first setting up an 'observatory' which will gather examples of creative behaviours in relation to use of transport systems by individuals, organisations and businesses and will also look to discover and understand user innovation and the process that is or could be followed from the germ of an idea through to an innovation success. Part of the observatory is an evolving 'Innovations Portal' which is set up as a Wiki on the project's website to encourage others to share, contribute and learn from the growing number of examples of user innovation that are already in existence. Later in the project we will be engaging with and nurturing individual innovations.”

The project, its academic findings to date, news of its ongoing activities and a rapidly developing innovations portal for the user innovations can be found at http:www.ideasintransit.org

Editors notes:
Full contractual title or project: Understanding user innovation - unanticipated applications of existing ITS.

Sponsors: EPSRC, DfT and the Technology Strategy Board
Future Intelligent Transport Systems (FITS) is an EPSRC, DfT and Technology Strategy Board initiative to fund multidisciplinary research and innovation consortia which will address key research issues in the long-term development of the UK's transport system.

Full details for the project team are as follows:

Centre for Transport & Society (UWE)
Professor Glenn Lyons, Dr Juliet Jain and Dr Tilly Line

Ergonomics and Safety Research Institute (Loughborough University)
Tracy Ross, Dr Val Mitchell and Dr Andrew May

Ito World Ltd
Peter Miller

Ordnance Survey
David Overton

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