New technologies could help cut delays and disruption to Britain’s infrastructure

New technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning could help cut delays and disruptions across the UK’s infrastructure network, a new report has stated.

The National Infrastructure Commission’s Data for the Public Good outlines how enabling new technologies through better infrastructure data could benefit the country. The report examines the opportunities that these new innovations present – and makes recommendations to increase open data sharing to make the most of them. Tangible benefits could include:

  • Cutting the numbers of delays and disruptions to train journeys by better planning maintenance and making repairs more quickly through the use of sensor networks and the application of machine learning
  • Reducing the numbers of traffic jams on the roads by using smart traffic lights and other systems;
  • Responding to extreme weather events like snowstorms and floods in a more coordinated way
  • Faster identification of leaks in the water network through data from smart water meters
  • Increasing competition between mobile and broadband operators by sharing data on signal and connection speeds – helping to end intermittent services

An example of this could be the use of sensors, which could provide real-time data on how infrastructure performs – helping to get a better understanding of how well the network operates, and giving early warning of the need for maintenance and repair.

However, Lord Adonis, the chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, warned that these benefits can only be realised if steps are taken to improve the quality, consistency and availability of data, with companies and agencies sharing the data they have on how well their infrastructure operates – while at the same time taking account of the necessary security precautions.

A national framework for infrastructure data would drive up quality and consistency and promote a move away from data silos and towards greater sharing, whilst ensuring the protection of personal data.  A digital framework task group, whose chair would act as a national champion for this agenda, would have responsibility for driving progress.

This would provide the first step towards developing a ‘digital twin’ of the UK’s infrastructure – a digital model of the network spanning transport, energy, water and telecommunications, with predictive capability which could vastly improve how infrastructure is managed, maintained and planned in the future. Britain’s strengths in artificial intelligence and machine learning make it well placed to lead this agenda, starting with a pilot digital twin project next year.

Scot Gardner, Chief Executive UK & Ireland, Cisco responded to the report by saying: “Every connection, everything we do, creates data. In the next decade, we’ll see many more things connected to the internet, each one of them with the potential to provide meaningful information that, if we can securely capture and utilise, will improve our lives.

“The publishing of this report not only highlights the opportunity in connecting and better utilising data, but the crucial areas that need to be addressed to truly see its benefit such as visibility, privacy and trust. We welcome the focus on utilising data and opening data access for the public good – in every sector, and for everyone.”

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