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Innovation Briefing Issue 9 | Project Roundup: Milton Keynes 5G

  • 3 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 11 May 2022
  • Last modified 26 Apr 2022
At the start of 2022, the world’s media flocked to Milton Keynes to see its futuristic robot vehicles in action – the culmination of years of work

Milton Keynes 5G has been built on a network which was the result of an earlier consortium with the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership. The 5GTT project focusses on transport, specifically mobility and logistics.  With its flat landscape and gridded layout, Milton Keynes is a perfect topographical testbed for this.

“We wanted ubiquitous connectivity to support mobility with real roads and real people” says Brian Matthews, Head of Transport Innovation at Milton Keynes Council.

The consortium enhanced the existing network using 5G kit from Stratchlyde University spin-out Neutral Wireless.

“We’ve learned to get our order early. We took a risk and placed orders before we had signed the DCMS bid,” says Matthews. “Of course, we’ve been through it once, and understood some of the challenges.”

Consortium members wanted to explore the viability of automated vehicles around defined locations – particularly the MK Stadium with its integrated hotel – as well as how to carry people from the railway station to the town’s centre. The Stadium comprises a 30,000 capacity outdoor venue, a 4,000 seat indoor arena, and the 300 room hotel.

While it was the Imperium Drive 4-seat robo-taxi which captured the imagination, and the attention of the national media, a 15-seater autonomous bus from the Aurrigo is also deployed at the stadium, integrating with the private network around the site. The pod is hands-off on the site, but hands-on on public roads. 5G permits remote driving. In addition, indoor robots perform service tasks at the hotel, while a fourth vehicle, a security pod with a tethered drone, has been deployed to explore safety and crowd management. The Connected Places Catapult was a key partner.

The work will continue, too. “Sustainability is a work stream. We’ve struck up a deal with Imperium Drive and the Satellite Catapult for central Milton Keynes. It’s part of a big European consortium.” Milton Keynes has been able to share its know-how with other Testbeds, “We’ve engaged with the NHS to look into putting robotics into hospitals. A major High Street chain wants to develop products in-hospital and then use the technology to move materials and medicines around the hospital. So we’re discussing moving the technology and the learning into the NHS.”

The network covers a six to eight kilometre cube, reaching around 60 to 70 per cent of the town’s urban area. The Council could sidestep OpenReach thanks to a city-wide gigabit fibre connection from CityFibre. Other partners include BT for its data centre.

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