The UK Department for Transport (DfT) has announced the launch of a new £1.8 million competition, aimed at supporting the latest innovative transport solutions, as the Government looks to grow the economy at the same time as seeking out ways to decarbonise transport. 

What does the competition involve? 

On 23rd October 2023, a new round of funding through the Transport Research and Innovation Grant (TRIG) competition was opened. A significant change is that a higher grant amount is now being made available to winners, of up to £45,000 per project. 

The latest round of funding will look at a variety of different areas, including – but not limited to – ways to use artificial intelligence (AI) to make transport faster and cheaper, as well as ways to decarbonise airport operations. 

The TRIG competition is delivered by the innovation accelerator, Connected Places Catapult (CPC). It awards grants to businesses to support their development of research and their provision of solutions to some of the most urgent issues that transport faces today, such as decarbonisation. 

Leading transport consultants will already be aware of the TRIG competition; last year’s edition saw funding awarded to no fewer than 67 projects. These initiatives focused on such solutions as robots for freight at ports, and personalised navigation apps for disabled passengers. 

“Innovation is key to helping improve transport across the UK” 

Technology minister Jesse Norman commented: “TRIG funding has been a huge success over the last 10 years, helping to pioneer the new ideas to solve the transport problems of tomorrow. 

“Today’s launch of the latest round of funding promises to build on the knowledge that innovation is key to helping improve transport across the UK, making lives easier and creating jobs.” 

For 2023, the competition is seeking proposals focusing on the areas of airport decarbonisation; local transport decarbonisation; the “Future of Freight”; maritime decarbonisation; and connectivity, AI, and digital twins. 

Also included is an “open call”, whereby innovative ideas that have the potential to address a transport challenge – whatever the specific modes, challenges, and technology involved – have a chance to be heard. 

With TRIG now in its 10th year, and past editions of the competition having seen more than £12 million awarded to 361 projects since 2014, those who are successful in their applications this time around will get to follow in impressive footsteps. 

Previous winners have developed a variety of exciting and pioneering initiatives, such as drones to deliver packages in hard-to-reach areas, kite-powered tugboats to drive down emissions, and an app that uses augmented reality (AR) to help visually impaired passengers get around train stations. 

Applications are open until 27th November. 

AI looks set to play a profound role in transport-sector innovation 

As we referenced above, the potential of AI in transport is one area of focus for the latest TRIG round of funding. It is fair to say, too, that it is not only the UK Government that is carefully considering what the fast-developing tech could do for the transportation of the future. 

The Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT), for example, has also been making a number of specific calls to help ensure AI brings benefits such as improvements in transport safety, more insightful transport planning, and increasingly efficient asset management. 

The professional association has said that various barriers remain when it comes to ensuring the widespread adoption of AI tech in the transport sector to assist the decarbonisation process. 

Those issues include, in the organisation’s view, a lack of skills and understanding, insufficient funding and investment, and a need for open data standards to ensure standardisation in how the UK transport industry collects and stores data. 

CIHT has also stated that there is a need for AI strategies and policies to be developed, so that the highways and transportation sector is provided with the right leadership and guidance, and key players in the industry can ensure the confident and ethical adoption of AI. 

Here at Transport Planning Associates (TPA), we would certainly be inclined to agree that while the outcomes from the latest TRIG competition with regard to AI development will be fascinating, it cannot be underestimated just how proactive the UK Government needs to be in order to help get the transportation sector fully “AI-ready”. 

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Featured image source: Connected Places Catapult