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IHub: Innovating to Support a Smarter Oxfordshire

We all know that Oxfordshire is at the forefront of technological innovation linked to its world-beating science and medical sector. What you may not know is that Oxfordshire County Council is heavily involved in many innovation projects, particularly in transport and social care, that bring together public and private sector partners.

In 2018, Oxfordshire County Council formally launched a unit known as the innovation hub or IHub. This became a unit in its own right, having developed from an entity within the council known as the Innovation & Research Team. The IHub has just been recognised at the Transtech Awards in London in November 2019.

The IHub was given a “Gamechanger” award for organisations shaping the future of transport with technology. The IHub won on the basis that it has demonstrated an ability at the forefront of the change in the mobility sector through the introduction of new technology and business models. Award organiser Landor cited IHub’s unique connected autonomous vehicles (CAV) expertise in particular in making the award, won against a series of high-performing contending cities.

Partnerships and building on the expertise in Oxfordshire are fundamental to how the IHub has grown to a team of 24 people and £120 million in revenue, based on work it won with commercial partners and academia. This investment will support new innovation projects and support businesses, start-ups and SMEs to deliver projects in Oxfordshire helping to develop new sectors such as autonomous vehicles or energy systems.

The IHub continues to add value to the council’s strategic priorities, which including improving transport connections while reducing carbon emissions, and managing the growing demand for social care services. The IHub has built an international reputation in developing solutions on intelligent infrastructure, health, environment, and mobility systems, as well as implementing projects to improve the local economy and environment for Oxfordshire’s citizens. The IHub created and enabled the first CAV team to trial advance new technology with software partner Oxbotica and focused Health and Care Innovation Team in the UK for local government.

Laura Peacock, Innovation & Research Manager at the IHub said: “The IHub has been key in developing links to business and academia, as well as securing external funding for projects for the county. Working with lead partners who are driving disruptive technologies, the IHub challenges the status quo and drives new solutions for Oxfordshire and beyond. With central government continuing to challenge local authorities to think differently and drive efficiencies, we are constantly looking at the private sector and academia for new ways to collaborate with the County Council on research projects. Oxfordshire County Council is especially well placed to innovate in this way having access to a range of applicable data on transport and other areas. This data can be combined with access to the county’s services to offer a test lab. The IHub acts to create a resilient and sustainable future for Oxfordshire through delivery of innovative operating models and partnerships.”

The IHub took the lead on Oxfordshire County Council’s launch of the Oxfordshire Mobility Model project. The model will improve how roads are planned, designed and upgraded. The project will ultimately lead to the development of a commercial-grade service that will generate future revenue for the council by means of a licensing model. This product will benefit both Oxfordshire by allowing better road designs and road improvements to be done in house as well as opening a source of income and a means of developing partnerships with more outside commercial and local authority entities. The insights gained from this leading work in Oxfordshire could benefit the highways infrastructure across the country.

Mobility is undergoing vast and rapid changes and is evolving towards Intelligent Mobility where technology and infrastructure and combined. Innovations such as Mobility as a Service (MaaS); the integration of various transport services into a single mobility service accessible on demand, are opportunities to update the way we travel. A unique feature of this project is how Oxfordshire – along with consortium partners Geospock, Immense Simulation, Alchera Technologies, Zipabout and Oxford Computer Consultancy- will be transforming current transport modelling for councils.

The new method of basing traffic modelling on people – not vehicles – ushers in a new era of transport planning in Britain. This means that transport in the future could be tailored to the specific needs and times an individual has to travel, using roads and infrastructure as part of this in the most efficient way technology will make possible.

The consortium is developing a new way to model traffic future demand that will provide an easy-to-use system for developers and city planners. They will be able to access a virtual model of a city that allows analysis of data and monitoring of systems to prevent problems before they happen. This model can be used for rapidly simulating multiple traffic scenarios and will not require as much specialist knowledge to run as current software, which will vastly improve the efficiency and cost of future planning.

Laura Peacock added: “The new Oxfordshire Mobility Model embodies how Oxfordshire County Council is embracing the skills and talent in Oxfordshire and the UK, developing a model that is agile and fit for a mobility system that it constantly changing meeting users high expectations. The Mobility Model and other IHub projects act as a catalyst to create a resilient and sustainable future for Oxfordshire delivering transformative operating models and partnerships.”