UK digital highway aims to be world’s proving ground for smart technology

Fri, 2015-07-24 06:00 -- SCC Staff

Soon driverless cars could be shuttling people across the Cambridge University campus. Apps and connected transit systems would make it easier for people to travel beyond the campus. And displays along the digital highway would help people figure out what to buy and where to dine.

It’s an ambitious vision, and part of a concentrated effort in the UK to be world leader when it comes to driverless car research. And it’s expected to inspire even more investment in the regional economy.

Driverless cars connect to smart city vision
The driverless cars are part of an overall smart city vision for the area that’s designed to reduce congestion and stimulate business. In addition to improving livability for residents, the idea is to stake a claim on a rapidly growing market for the technology.

Building on the Connecting Cambridgeshire program that extends high-speed Internet and provides public Wi-Fi, regional leaders believe they have a unique opportunity to build and prove the technology – and then sell it to the rest of the world. A report says the combination of a cutting-edge university, high-tech businesses and a community that’s already wired gives the region a strong advantage. The world market for that technology could be worth a trillion dollars.

Initial focus on cutting congestion
The initial goal is to cut congestion on the roads by at least 10% during peak travel times. It’s a goal that requires getting people out of their own cars and new technology could help speed that transition.

The city is willing to become a guinea pig for driverless cars. That effort is supported by the UK government, which has already approved road trials and is even investing millions to develop concepts and technology for the cars of the future. 

But the transportation vision doesn't stop there. A new app will turn the various transportation options into one cohesive transit system, which is always up-to-date pulling in current conditions over the Internet of Things. Digital signs on the road would also warn people of accidents or congestion ahead, letting them make the choice to travel at different times or to take an alternate route.

Including retail in the mix
The vision also includes something the regional leaders are calling the Digital High Street. Digital signage could perhaps offer free parking or other discounts to entice people to do their shopping at off-peak times.

Other special offers may encourage people to try independent shops or restaurants, providing a boost for small businesses.

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