TfWM using 5G technology to cut traffic congestion with help from Vivacity Labs

Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) is harnessing the power of 5G technology to cut traffic congestion on some of the West Midlands busiest roads with the help of Vivacity Labs.

The network of 5G sensors will relay live traffic information to local authorities so that action can be taken as queues build up – including diverting buses, implementing diversions, and issuing instant warnings to motorists.

West Midlands 5G (WM5G) and TfWM have joined forces to work on the project to demonstrate how 5G technology can make an impact on the road network. Vivacity provides AI-powered sensors which gather detailed and anonymous data 24/7 on travel patterns, transport flow and different modes of transport to support strategic decisions on urban infrastructure.

The project centres around the Key Route Network, a set of A and B roads equivalent to 7% of the available network, but which carry over half of all traffic within the region. This has resulted in congestion hotspots affecting drivers and bus passengers alike, something which the Road Sensor Networks project hopes to alleviate. In its first phase, the project aims to capture a more granular picture of traffic flow through the deployment of various 5G enabled sensors, radar and cameras across the key route network.

Mike Waters, director of policy, strategy and innovation for TfWM, said: “Our partnership with Vivacity Labs, and the accurate data that its technology will provide us with, will go a long way in reinvigorating existing traffic networks in the region. The project will also allow us to develop better traffic models or “digital twins” allowing improved understanding of changes in travel behaviour as the region comes out of lockdown. These models also allow us to prioritise road improvements and support new developments, key to “building back better”.

Chris Holmes, transport programme director for WM5G, added: “The Road Sensor Network project is a great example of how deliberate application of connected technologies can provide the insights necessary to solve some of our biggest transport problems.

“The anonymised, GDPR compliant information captured during the project will be sufficient to start improving the flow of traffic across the West Midlands’ Key Route Network and improve access to the region. Better connected roads will ultimately support local financial growth as it will be quicker and easier to travel for business, leisure, or academia.”

To date, the region has relied on manual surveys of traffic flows using pneumatic tubes or limited coverage of CCTV and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras to gauge the number of vehicles and journeys being undertaken on the region’s roads. This approach is limited in terms of the data and information it provides, making it difficult to accurately predict or model transport activity on the road network.

Mark Nicholson, CEO and co-founder at Vivacity Labs, added: “We’re passionate about making our cities smarter, safer and more sustainable and we’re really looking forward to seeing the positive benefits that our data will provide the West Midlands with, particularly as the region emerges from lockdown this summer. The pandemic has seen a significant shift in travel trends, and, as well as live insights, data provides the ability to both analyse where to implement changes and evaluate the effectiveness of schemes in place.”

The Road Sensor Network will also deploy environmental sensors to gain greater insight into noise levels, particulates, CO and CO2 counts, as well as weather and humidity data. This information will support the TfWM in meeting air quality objectives and help the region reduce its emissions footprint, which in turn will improve the health and wellbeing of local citizens and road users.

The next stage of the £5.8 million Road Sensor Network Project will see around 280 sensors provided by Vivacity and Vaisala deployed across the seven constituent authorities of the West Midlands Combined Authority area, before its conclusion in March 2022. It is hoped the findings will support other regions in developing similar networks to ease congestion hotspots and more intuitively manage traffic flow.

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