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SETsquared scale-ups disrupt mobility tech during the pandemic

SETsquared scale-ups disrupt mobility tech during the pandemic

The global pandemic has offered start-ups an unprecedented opportunity to disrupt technology within the mobility sector. Some of the very latest innovations developed by SETsquared Scale-Up member companies were showcased recently at the 2020 FT Future of Mobility Summit.

The digital conference hosted by Peter Campbell, the FT’s Global Motor Industry Correspondent, brought together industry leaders in the transport market who are interested in sustainable and seamless mobility. SETsquared invited a group of Scale-Up member companies to this virtual event, where they had an opportunity to showcase their technologies to the movers and shakers in the transport and mobility sector.

Colin Stakem, Scale-Up Sector Manager for Advanced Engineering and Manufacturing/Environment, Sustainability, Marine and Maritime, answers some of the key questions to come out of a panel discussion on disruptors in the mobility industry.

Q. How have start-ups responded to the pandemic and what are the brightest new ideas in transport to emerge this year?

We’ve seen start-ups respond positively to the crisis by focusing on the R&D phase. Scale-Up members have been launching new collaborative research and development projects with the SETsquared university partners, often leveraged with government funding such as the Sustainable Innovation Fund (SIF).

For example, Ecomar Propulsion successfully secured SIF grant funding with the University of Exeter for a technical feasibility study on the rapid electrification of marine power systems for commercial marine vessels. This project forms part of Ecomar’s journey to design a range of UK-manufactured clean electric marine propulsion systems capable of hybrid function with a hydrogen fuel cell.

Another excellent idea to emerge is from IPFT Fuels, which is developing autonomous electric vehicle charging solutions for applications across the transport system.

Autonomous charging technology addresses many of the challenges of charging electric vehicles and is an enabling technology for Mobility-as-a-Service, EV car clubs and Vehicle to Grid. These initiatives have further environmental and economic benefits, including supporting better integration of intermittent renewable energy generation. IPFT Fuels are currently working with Cardiff University to develop plans for the adaptation of their technology in scalable use cases.

Q. Can innovation in mobility change city infrastructure for the better?

An interesting innovation that has the potential to change city infrastructure for the benefit of the environment is the concept of the ‘Digital Twin’.

Digital Twins are virtual models of a physical product, process or system. They bridge physical and digital worlds, enabling designers to understand the benefits and impacts of large-scale developments such as new buildings or major transport infrastructure by using AI and data science.

City Science is a start-up leading a £1m project to deliver digital twin technology that will model complex operations around congested transport networks and building energy management.

The project applies AI developed by the University of Exeter to modelling systems developed by City Science and Hoare Lea to achieve significant improvements to cost and accuracy of digital twins, making it more accessible and valuable to enterprises, businesses and the public sector.

Q. Has the pandemic helped or hindered the process of working with local authorities?

I don’t think the pandemic has changed much in regard to working with local authorities. They’re always exploring ways of getting a better return from their assets, while also fulfilling their social and community responsibilities. Mobility start-ups continue to respond to this.

Accelogress created Save-a-Space, a bespoke cloud parking management platform, as part of a pilot with the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). Its role was to overcome difficulties and frustrations faced by drivers searching for a vacant parking space at busy train station car parks.

As a result of the pilot, congestion around peak times has been reduced while users of the Save-a-Space service have reported a huge reduction in stress around their morning commute. In addition, WMCA has gained insights into parking space occupancy levels and how people use their park and ride service.

Q. Are lightweight electric vehicles, such as electric bikes and e-scooters, a preferred alternative to public transport now?

For some people in urban locations, lightweight electric vehicles will be the preferred option, especially for short journeys. They’re clean, reliable and a lot of fun! My first experience of using an e-scooter came in Thessaloniki in 2019 and I was surprised how quick and easy it was to sign-up and use. It feels like the UK, especially London, is slightly behind other European cities, but that is now being rectified with the recent government launch of 12-month trials of e-scooters across parts of the UK, including Bristol where I live. The e-scooters are being provided by Voi Technology, a Swedish micro-mobility company – a shame a British company couldn’t have provided them – and it’s very pleasing to see a broad range of age and gender demographics adopting the technology so quickly. Of course, public transport will still have a role to play, especially for elderly people unable to use these new mobility options and those in more rural locations, and we need to make sure these people don’t get left behind in the steady march of technological progress.

Anything is possible if governments follow through on their crusade against ICE and diesel. Once it would have been impossible to imagine pubs without ashtrays. Maybe roads without cars will follow suit?

Q. Are start-ups as active in aerospace as in other areas of mobility?

Yes, very much so. The South West has a strong tradition of innovation with the largest aerospace cluster in the UK. SETsquared has supported a diverse range of aerospace technology start-ups, covering 3D printing aircraft parts to maritime surveillance.

One example is IDU Group which is developing a last mile drone-based solution for the online package delivery sector. The long-standing problems of ‘last mile’ logistics cost the eCommerce sector billions of dollars a year and IDU Group’s drone delivery network is designed to save time and costs for retailers and the e-Commerce industry.

Furthermore, SETsquared has supported start-ups to access funding via Aerospace Technology Institute funding streams to promote transformative technology in air transport.

Q. What are the top mobility trends to watch in 2021?

The rise of the autonomous vehicle has been predicted for some time but 2021 could be a real breakthrough year.

McKinsey has predicted that roughly 15% of automobiles sold in 2030 could be fully autonomous. And with companies like RoboK using disruptive new techniques in computer vision and deep learning to improve car safety, there will eventually be no need for drivers.

Another area ripe for disruption is mobility finance. Global interest rates and consumer resistance to brand lock-ins means they are funding the depreciation of ‘their’ vehicle, which puts Big Auto-finance divisions in the crosshairs of dozens of fintech start-ups.

The FT Future of Mobility Summit took place on 24 November 2020.

SETsquared Scale-Up member companies at the showcase. Here are the companies who attended the FT Future of Mobility event with SETsquared:

Accelogress

Accelogress is a member of SETsquared Surrey and received support from the Scale-Up Programme to develop its ‘Save-a-Space’ parking solution to allow transport operators to implement social distancing on public transport services during COVID-19. The Save-a-Space’ app allows users to easily book, pay and navigate to their selected parking spot.

City Science

City Science is developing analytical tools for data-driven city design. Its cutting-edge research and statistical behaviour surveys provide insights that will help urban areas become Smart Cities by securing investment for sustainable travel, promoting cycling and walking, and taking active steps to improving air quality and health.

IDU Group

IDU Group is developing a ‘last mile’ drone-based solution for the online package delivery sector. This could save the eCommerce sector billions of dollars a year in overcoming the logistical challenge of covering the last mile of delivery, as well as speeding up emergency healthcare and fast-tracking mission-critical supplies.

IPFT Fuels

IPFT Fuels is a member of SETsquared Surrey and has received support from the Scale-Up Programme for its innovations in electric vehicle charging. It is developing autonomous electric vehicle charging solutions that can be used for transport on land and water as well as in the air.

RoboK

RoboK is a Cambridge-based venture capital-backed start-up improving car safety using 3D sensing software technology. It harnesses advances in image processing, sensor fusion and simulations, and algorithms to create cost-effective car safety systems for consumer vehicles.

If you own a company developing technology that would benefit from help to grow and gain investment take a look at the SETsquared Scale-Up Programme.

Find out more about the SETsqaured Scale Up Programme

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SETsquared is a partnership between

  • University of Bath
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Southampton
  • University of Surrey