Tomorrow's World vision for a Buckinghamshire estate


A future with driverless cars, smart road technology, and energy generation from passing vehicles sounds like the stuff of science fiction novels.

But Buckinghamshire is positioned to become one of only eight councils in the country to win Government funding to trial 'smart' technology in real life that would make vision become reality.

A small County Council team, led by Mark Shaw, Deputy Leader and Transport Cabinet Member, successfully bid for £4.5 million of innovation grant funding from the Department for Transport (DfT) via the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT).

The money will pay for early experimental work on: 

  • 'Smart' lamp posts made from recycled plastic, which last longer and are cheaper to make, can accommodate light-mounted sensors to collect data, and could even support solar panels and wind turbines.
  • Trial road surfacing that generates energy from moving vehicles.
  • Roadside sensors to collect real-time data about traffic movements, weather conditions and even help guide driverless cars.

The inspiration and impetus is the vision for Aylesbury as a Garden Town where innovation is a cornerstone and new approaches to technology and data use will be woven into new developments.

The cutting edge trialling team will also carry out a feasibility study into driverless cars and how they'd work with this technology, and look into how electric bikes could help reduce the number of commuters' cars on rush-hour roads.

As part of ADEPT’s SMART Places Live Labs programme, these experimental technologies would be tried out over the coming two years in real streets, rather than in the laboratory.

The County Council team has identified Aylesbury's 1,900-home Fairford Leys estate as an ideal project test bed, because it's a self-contained community similar in style to what Aylesbury Garden Town developments might be like.

"It's exciting that Buckinghamshire is in the vanguard, trialling as-yet untested technology that could become part of normal life in future housing estates," said Mark. "These Live Lab experiments are 'proof of concepts' - testing conceptual technology in real world conditions - and will enable us to demonstrate a whole range of world 'firsts'." 

Mark said the County Council was keen to trial new transport technologies that would be environmentally friendly, make a real impact on traffic congestion, reduce costs, and possibly generate revenue. Not only this, he said, the results would provide a national and international template for building into future garden town-style developments.

All of this enthuses Bill Chapple OBE, Chairman of Aylesbury Garden Town Board, who sees the Live Labs trials as important to the emerging garden town masterplan.

"With the Aylesbury Garden Town Masterplan, we're looking forward three decades," said Bill. "You can't look at 2040 or 2050 with a mind stuck in 2020. The art of future gazing is to imagine what will be commonplace in 30 years’ time. This is just what the Live Labs team will help us to do."

He points to the environmental benefits of using recycled components, the potential for sustainable energy generation, and the possible impact on air quality control, which the trial will highlight.

"We owe it to our children and grandchildren to think the apparently unthinkable and imagine the unimaginable," said Bill.

As the programme develops, the County Council will look for other developers, suppliers, telecommunications providers, and energy funders to support the Live Labs project.

Giles Perkins, Programme Director for the ADEPT Live Labs initiative said: “ADEPT’s Live Labs programme is demonstrating a pro-active approach in tackling the challenges of today within the context of the rapid changes we are seeing in the transport sector. The insights and learning from Buckinghamshire and the other seven Live Labs, as they develop over the next two years, will be invaluable for local authorities and industry right across the UK and beyond."

The SMART Places programme is a two-year £22.9 million project funded by the DfT and supported by project partners SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business, EY, Kier, O2, Ringway and WSP.  Local authorities are working on eight projects to introduce digital innovation across SMART mobility, transport, highways maintenance, data, energy and communications. Live Labs is part of ADEPT’s SMART Places programme to support the use of digital technology in place-based services.

The project trials in more detail

'Smart' lamp posts, 
moulded from recycled composite materials, would provide the means to site sensor equipment to measure air quality, detect noise and take surface temperatures, allowing - for example - a control centre to 'listen' for road collisions or guide winter gritting. They would also be able to charge electric vehicles. Trials with solar panels and mini turbines attached to taller lampposts would test the feasibility of generating sustainable energy to take the strain off the National Grid.

Special road surfaces, 
generating energy from the weight and friction of vehicles passing over them, would enable roadside batteries to be charged to power streetlights, or provide electricity to sell to the National Grid.

Roadside sensors 
would be able to monitor the condition of roads, traffic conditions, vehicle speeds, vehicle types and traffic flow. 



Mark Shaw and Bill Chapple OBE: Fairford Leys to be a test-bed for smart technology

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