And from well-documented pothole issues, to reducing accidents and congestion (for environmental, economic and social reasons), the transport sector is ripe with opportunity when it comes to 5G.
West Midlands 5G (WM5G) deployed a range of transport projects and use cases, unearthing considerable insight into how 5G connected technology could help with the 66,000,000+ road journeys that take place every year.
Across a two-year programme, WM5G installed hundreds of sensors in the West Midlands, facilitating the collection, processing and sharing of real-time traffic data, emissions and weather data to support immediate interventions and long-term decision making.
Below, we have laid out the benefits realised across a few key transport projects from the WM5G team, as well as summarising the main lessons learned across the trials:
One of the overriding success stories from the programme was undertaken in partnership with Vivacity Labs, who used their sensors and 5G connectivity to detect traffic flow and safety on roads. As well as vehicle-to-vehicle tracking, the sensors can also detect how close a cyclist or a scooter is to a car and provide real-time data to the traffic control centre to inform and manage traffic.
WM5G estimates this could deliver an up to 5% reduction in journey delays, which can bring significant economic value to individuals and industry, supporting regional prosperity. Additionally, there are benefits from fuel savings (reducing start-stop conditions), reduced accidents and lower emissions.
5G-enabled traffic management can also send alerts to journey apps, traffic signs and V2X-equipped vehicles on upcoming traffic conditions. The high bandwidth speed of 5G means this information is fed to road users in real-time, as conditions change, enabling them to act quickly upon information related to, say, adverse weather conditions.
Approximately 3% of traffic accidents in the West Midlands region are caused by weather conditions and the use of connectivity and data to reduce these types of accidents will save road users from serious and sometimes fatal accidents.
Access to this rich data source would improve local authorities’ ability to manage traffic locally with existing control interactions, and the Regional Traffic Coordination Centre, which opened in January 2020, would also benefit, enabling more precise identification and management of incidents and congestion across the region.
The sensors also provide a significant benefit to police and emergency services and those who require themeir services. 5G live streaming enables traffic controllers to assess incidents in real-time by severity and allocate appropriate resources efficiently. Routing for emergency service vehicles can be then determined based on live road conditions. This reduces the response time of emergency services and enables those in need to be treated faster.
And of course, a sensor network powered by 5G can also support a region’s Net Zero efforts. Road air quality sensors typically deployed today only send updates once a day with minimal coverage across the transport network. However, with 5G sensors, air quality data can be monitored on a real-time basis and utilised to construct a public health exposure model. Advanced navigation routines can then be deployed to direct high-carbon emitting vehicles to alternative low-polluting routes if limits in a certain area have been exceeded.
Initial trials have shown sensors to provide more accurate information on the start and end of incidents or events than other sources such as crowd-sourced data. Further data from additional testing is expected in the next six months to fully quantify the benefits realised over the long term.
This project, with lead partner JR Dynamics Ltd, installed cameras to monitor and detect potential issues with the height, wire stagger and carbon wear of pantographs - devices mounted on the roofs of electric trains and trams that collect power from contact with the overhead wires.
Excess of impact can cause damage including breakage of overhead wires, pantograph wear and failure and if left undetected, significant damage and cost to repair; pantograph damage currently costs the UK rail industry £100m+ a year.
With the replacement of overhead wires taking between three and eight hours, maintaining proper contact allows for a safe, cost effective and reliable train service. This is particularly relevant in the context of rising passenger complaints, with recent research showing that the majority of complaints (more than 52,000 in April 2021 to end March 2022) are related to punctuality and reliability.
HPOMS uses the high bandwidth and low latency of 5G to enable high powered and near instantaneous image processing triggering appropriate alerts. Meaning safety-impacting issues are quickly identified and rectified.
During the first installation of HPOMS between November 2021 and January 2022, 35 automated impact alerts were generated highlighting potential areas of damage. Live alerts enabled activation of Automatic Drop Device (ADD) to reduce damage to the pantograph and power line reducing repair bills, estimated to be £1 million per year on Class 350 trains alone. As a result, the HPOMS solution is planned to be installed on 21 trains with Angel Trains in the West Midlands.
Congestion of the West Midlands road network is an extensive issue, with motorists in Birmingham alone spending 9% of total journey time in traffic at an estimated cost to the economy of £407m per annum. The root-cause of congestion across the region has been identified as planned roadworks and incidents; better management of such scenarios could significantly improve traffic flow.
Capacity Manager is a Blacc product which uses 5G traffic sensing data for traffic management, providing an almost real-time view of the road capacity available and the impact of roadworks, incidents and events. Significantly, this data collation allows for modelling and scenario testing of events, such as planned roadworks, enabling more informed future traffic planning.
More efficient traffic and roadwork management will reduce the amount of time vehicles spend on the roads, lower vehicle fuel consumption – particularly that driven by idle time and starting and stopping, should reduce carbon emissions, and also improve air quality in impacted areas. Furthermore, less fuel consumption means more discretionary spend for motorists and all businesses who have deliveries and supply chains passing through the impacted areas. Such solutions can have far reaching economic and social impact.
Key learnings from the WM5G transport projects:
- Be mindful you’re working with maturing technology: As a result, more time should be factored in for software development to ensure it can fit into the supply chain; you want to avoid situations where equipment is being deployed before this work is completed, as this can add unnecessary risk into your project. As the technology develops, this need for specific software development time will decline.
- Understand the assets available to you for infrastructure deployment: As with many projects, WM5G identified the value in having information upfront about the type of street furniture available for deploying sensors and other equipment. This is often not as straightforward as it sounds but the work of the DCIA project is taking significant steps to improve this process.
- Don’t skip the structural surveys: these are highly recommended to assess and identify early on any potential faults or issues with assets you’re going to use for deploying infrastructure, enabling you to then apply for the correct permit for any remedial work that might be required. WM5G found that around 10% of their sites failed structural testing towards the end of the project, which caused delays. They recommend conducting a structural survey after the high level design phase and before the second iteration of the local authority feedback for optimal efficiency.
- Collaboratively engage with asset owners: working with asset owners during the exploration and design phase can help to secure buy-in to key assets. Taking the time to work with asset owners and help them understand the benefits the project will bring, can help with the development of strong, mutually beneficial relationships.
- Seek pre-approvals from local authorities: This can help to reduce the time and additional work created by planning application rejections. It may also help to avoid the risk of unexpected costs; the project encountered some permits getting rejected as close as 24 hours before works were due to start, resulting in cancellation fees with subcontractors. Securing Local Authority buy-in to your endeavours - and timelines - advance of formal submission of requests is therefore key, increasing the likelihood of permit applications being approved.
- The value of documentation: The process to gain approvals to install sensors on street furniture, access power and apply for traffic management permits differed across all seven Local Authorities in the West Midlands region, adding complexity to the delivery process. Often, no documented instruction manual existed within the local authorities on how to navigate these steps so documenting the process for installing devices in each Local Authority you intend to operate would be a good starting point to ensure everyone has the same base level of understanding, and helping to de-risk future projects.
For more information on the WM5G project, please visit its homepage on the UK5G website here.