With flood waters in parts of the UK barely receded after a winter of unprecedented storms, the launch of Transport Systems Catapult supported Instant Weather pilot was timely, and has already generated ideas for new ways to exploit Met Office and other transport data sets.
Exclusive to a region itself buffeted by major storm surge before Christmas, the pilot offers the chance for small, local and dynamic software companies to have free-of-charge access to detailed data that would likely only be affordable to large companies.
The recent winter weather took quite a toll on transport and utilities according to the Met Office, that has an interest in enabling earlier warnings that would help these sectors brace themselves for future weather events.
It claims that weather intelligence can make a huge difference to business performance. For instance, the benefits of Met Office forecasts to the Environment Agency Flood Warning Services have been estimated at around £48 million per annum and airlines save an estimated £2.7 billion a year globally, thanks to forecasts influenced by weather intelligence.
The Instant Weather, or Integrated Transport and Weather Information Pilot (ITWIP), is a joint innovation project between Transport Systems Catapult (TSC), Connected Digital Economy Catapult (CDEC), the Met Office andSunderland Software City (a public, private and educational organisation set up to develop a software industry in the region).
The thinking behind the project is that by allowing free access to localised and short timeframe forecast data, SMEs will be enabled to develop and commercialise new services and applications that address transport related problems – such as disruption, routing, extreme weather events, impacts on infrastructure and communicating disruption to stakeholders.
The pilot project, focused on the North-East of England, is testing the development and commercialisation of technological applications that combine localised and ‘instant’ (0 – 3 hour time window) weather information from the Met Office with locally generated transport, environmental and logistical information.
The Innovation Challenge, held in Sunderland on 28 February, marked the official start of the six month pilot.
At the event, 69 delegates representing software companies, transport companies (the expected end users), data providers as well as the partner team, attended to learn about the opportunities that could arise from combining weather, transport and environmental hazard data sets. These data sets are described on a dedicated section of Sunderland Software City’s website known as the ITWIP Portal.
The day also featured a participative workshop for sharing business challenges, demonstrating existing services and products as well as providing networking opportunities.
David Dunn, Chief Executive of Sunderland Software City provided an overview of the project, the partners, the data sources and the ITWIP portal.
To aid discussions, David also presented the findings of some market research commissioned by TSC that assessed opportunities for short term forecasts across various sectors.
Richard Adlington (Transport Systems Catapult) and Maurizio Pilu (Connected Digital Economy Catapult) then described the benefits of Catapult support and the background to the event (TSC held a scoping workshop for the project last October, also held in Sunderland, and also helped organise the Innovation Challenge Day).
The opening presentations were concluded by John Hirst, Chief Executive of the Met Office, illustrating the broad and exciting work with which the Met Office is involved. He also encouraged SMEs and others to use the data and information in new and innovative ways for generating new products and services.
The TSC commissioned market research provided a broad assessment of the challenges, and opportunities, for Instant Weather, in terms of public transport management; road service and breakdown companies; the logistics sector; as well as for manufacturing industries.
It identified the need for better real-time transport information for rail and air passengers (of “how long any train or flight delays might last”) and for drivers (on “road conditions and disruption”).
For breakdown services, the ability to predict peaks in demand for breakdown crews could aid fleet planning, while logistics companies could benefit; for example high sided vehicles are vulnerable in severe wind conditions.
“We’ll be looking to champion the best ideas in the transport arena”, said Richard Adlington following collation of the feedback of the Innovation Challenge event.
“The major development is that, for six months, SMEs will be looking to develop ideas using the data – and we’ve seen three or four really good ideas already.”