Speaking at the Ogilvy Labs Future of Travel and Tourism event yesterday, innovation manager Jason DaPonte laid out TfL’s strategy for emerging technologies.

And when it comes to innovation at TfL, partnerships and collaboration are key, especially in the current financial climate.

©TfL

DaPonte said: “We can’t do it by ourselves so one of the absolute keys to what we are trying to do with innovation is collaboration and that is where we need to be working with startups, new technology companies, brands and all sorts of partners.”

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“We don’t have a huge amount of money for innovation projects,” DaPonte said. “We have a huge amount of money for running a railway, bus and road network and keeping it maintained. We have to raise a lot of the money and find innovative ways of working together.”

Wi-Fi

The question that everyone wanted to ask was if TfL will ever be able to offer Wi-Fi connectivity across the entire network, and not just at stations, and DaPonte was keen to stress that it is a priority for them.

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“I can’t tell you exactly when, but we are doing a lot of trying to figure that out,” he said. “It’s incredibly hard because the Victorians didn’t leave space for Wi-Fi routers and access points in the tunnels.”

“We know that it is something customers are screaming out for and it will enable a lot for us in terms of making our jobs easier in terms of collecting the data and everything else.”

DaPonte said that any companies that know of a solution for this problem should approach them through the innovation portal (more on this below).

From IoT to VR

DaPonte went on to lay out five emerging technology areas that TfL is looking at:

1. Virtual Reality: “We are doing a huge amount of work there, how that works as a corporate tool. Augmented reality as well.” One potential use is for virtual driver training.

2. Passenger devices and new displays: “The things that passengers are going to be interacting with, so any way we can get better information to customers faster.”

3. Sensor ecosystems: “What can we learn about the environment context that people are in through whatever personal devices they have. Be that handheld or wearables.”

4. Sentiment: “How are customer feeling, what are their journeys like, what do they want to tell us, in real time? Sure we can just look at Twitter but we know that people only go on Twitter generally if they are having a very bad commute and often with a lot of expletives and not with information that we can act on.”

5. Finally, there is the Internet of Things (IoT), which provides some very exciting opportunities for a company like TfL.

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DaPonte says they are “in the process of connecting as many of our trains and buses and tracks and ventilation systems and ticketing systems to get as much data out of those as possible to see what insights we can get” 

The aim of collecting this data is to get “a much deeper level of experience understanding of customers and the ability to improve their journeys both from a hard engineering point of view but also from a personal point of view,” says DaPonte.

There are already more than 30,000 sensors on every train on the underground delivering 2GB of sensor data per week. “It is a huge amount of data we are getting but we couldn’t crack completely what to do with it on our own,” says DaPonte.

When asked if they were using open source tools for this kind of data processing DaPonte didn’t want to discuss the tech stack at TfL. He did say that being a public company, where cost is of huge importance, that open source technologies certainly make sense.

He added: “There are lots of things about storage and analysis that have to happen. I think the interesting part is when we can start to connect that data to the human data out there.”

Innovation Portal

The “front door” for TfL when it comes to partnerships is its Innovation Portal. DaPonte explained: “This is where we ask partners to tell us how they can work with us. We post challenges and projects.

DaPonte finished with a challenge for startups and technology companies to “surprise us, come talk to me. We are looking for interesting partners to work with.”

tfl.gov.uk/innovation

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