Two-week ‘Imagine Festival’ in Milton Keynes is considering how intelligent mobility will evolve

Everything from jet-packs, flying cars and ‘robot transport pods’ is on the agenda at the Imagine Festival, a two-week exploration of intelligent mobility which opened in Milton Keynes this week. The event is the first to be organised by Transport Systems Catapult, the independent centre for innovation which connects transport sector businesses with the UK’s research and academic communities.

The festival is aimed at anyone with an interest in technology and innovation that could have an impact on the movement of people and goods around the world, including SMEs, entrepreneurs, innovators, technologists, policy-makers. It is being hosted at the ‘Imovation Centre’, which opened in Milton Keynes on June 5. Covering over 36,000 square feet, the new centre features world-class IT infrastructure, simulation and modelling rooms, creative collaboration spaces and innovation labs.

Among the innovations that will be profiled at the event is ‘sentiment mapping’, which harnesses social media to track the emotions of public transport users and drivers. Transport Systems Catapult is working in partnership with the Royal College of Art and a London-based company called Commonplace to create a new platform for mapping people’s journey sentiments and how this information can be integrated with planning to improve the customer experience.

“The whole transport sector is increasingly good at using every kind of technology, from posters to digital media to social media, to send information to passengers, but [is] not necessarily very good at finding out what the passenger experience is like,” says Dr Stephen Boyd Davis of the Royal College of Arts, who is working on the project. “The main aim of the sentiment mapping project is to find out what passengers are thinking and feeling – and to locate that in both time and place so that the information is actually useful and usable.”

The festival will also be hearing an update on plans to introduce self-driving ‘robot’ pods to Milton Keynes next year on a mile-long ‘redway’ pedestrian route between the railway station and the city centre. Manufactured in Britain and using software developed by Oxford University’s Mobile Robotics Group, these electric-powered vehicles are intended to help to promote intelligent mobility, minimise congestion and reduce carbon emissions.

Nothing is too ambitious to be on the agenda. A session on June 17 will meanwhile ask whether our future transport visions are in danger of being of the modest ‘feet on the ground’ variety, in contrast with the exciting sci-fi possibilities for the future imagined by the sixties generation: the jet-pack, the flying car, the monorail, the personalised Learjet, Maglev taxis, long-haul flights by space shuttle.

However, those who are interested in innovations that may have an impact in the short term will be interested to learn that Ipswich-based ITO World will use the Imagine Festival to preview a “radical new data visualisation tool” (pictured above) it is developing for transport professionals.

ITO World says that this business intelligence aid will help planners, policy-makers, operators and modellers understand how transport networks function at present, how they performed in the past and how they might operate in the future. Available to the industry later this year, the platform will provide transport professionals with the power to interrogate and explore big datasets, visualise models, identify and report key trends, explore and diagnose causal factors and report on and share these insights.

ITO World chief executive Peter Miller says the platform will aid future transport planning and policy making by making complex data sets easier to understand, communicate and act on.

Miller said: “Doing more with data is key to the successful development of intelligent mobility, and creation of smart cities. Our visualisation tools are helping to make sense of all this data and deliver data-driven insight and real-time business intelligence in a simple engaging way.”

“That’s why ITO is attracting so much attention from organisations that have significant commercial and economic interests in understanding traffic, movement across modes, network connectivity, congestion, asset management and safety – particularly as there is an increasingly overwhelming amount of data available t0 understand”.


This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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