Technology research and innovation grants: accessibility (TRIG-A) 2021 programme report

Technology research and innovation grants (TRIG) provide the Department for Transport (DfT) funding support for innovative projects, ideas or concepts that facilitate a better transport system.

This report provides a review of the projects that received funding from the 2020 Technology Research and Innovation Grants: accessibility (TRIG-A) programme.

Our 2018 Inclusive Transport Strategy (ITS), sets out the government’s ambition for disabled people to have the same access to transport as non-disabled people. As well as being able to travel confidently, easily and without extra cost.

By 2030, we envisage equal access for disabled people using the transport system with assistance if physical infrastructure remains a barrier.

One of the essential pillars of the ITS is ensuring that technological advances and new business models provide opportunities for all and that disabled people are involved from the outset in their design.

TRIG-A has funded small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) innovators to trial new technology ideas that could improve transport accessibility.

It has largely mirrored other ‘TRIG’ grant programmes operated by DfT. The accessibility programme is helping to advance promising new products and services that have the potential to significantly improve access to transport services, while increasing disabled passenger confidence.

Launched in November 2020 and delivered in partnership with the Connected Places Catapult (CPC), TRIG-A resulted in nearly £600,000 of government grants.

These grants have been aimed at facilitating the development of new products and services to support and improve travel for disabled people.

The programme awarded grants to 5 SMEs for demonstrator projects that resulted in the development and operational testing of innovative technology.

This report includes a summary, provided by the CPC, of each project TRIG-A has funded. It outlines:

  • the challenges the projects tackled and proposed solutions
  • activities undertaken in the funded project
  • outcomes from the projects and next steps

This was a one-off programme. We will evaluate the success of the project as we consider possible further TRIG-A rounds.

You can find out more about T-TRIG funding winners or contact TRIG2021@cp.catapult.co.uk.

TRIG-A funding winners

Bids for TRIG-A funding support were evaluated jointly by DfT, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee and the CPC.

This identified 5 winners that best satisfied the fundamental aims of TRIG-A. This includes offering innovative solutions to known transport challenges facing disabled people, with the potential for longer-term market exploitation where identified.

The 5 range from virtual reality (VR) simulations of rail stations to apps that improve communications between disabled passengers and airport staff.

New technologies will help give disabled people increased confidence to travel as we build back fairer from coronavirus (COVID-19).

The 5 TRIG-A bids that received funding are:

Chrome Angel Solutions 

A VR simulation of rail vehicles and stations that uniquely uses ‘gamification’ to improve learning. The aim of the project is to improve disabled people’s confidence to use the rail network with a safe, highly realistic VR experience.  

Briteyellow

A passenger navigation system for multiple modes of transport. It uniquely uses vision, voice and haptic feedback to enhance user experience. The aim of the project is to deliver an effective wayfinding solution, incorporating highly accurate positioning and real-time information.

Ostrum Tech 

An improved system for communication between disabled passengers and ground handling agents at airports. It uniquely incorporates a passenger app and website, integrated with a workflow management system for airports. The aim of the project is to provide a more efficient, more reliable experience for airport passengers needing assistance.

Sightcall 

A system for improved passenger assistance for disabled people at rail stations. It uniquely integrates a journey planning app with video calling to a call centre when the user presses the help button. The aim of the project is for the video element to assist call centre staff to better identify where a disabled passenger is, and to guide/assist them as necessary.

You.Smart.Thing 

A system to improve the ‘whole journey’ experience for disabled passengers on multiple modes of transport. It uniquely includes a navigation and help function from the user’s front door to destination. The aim of the project is to improve disabled passenger’s willingness to use public transport.

Post TRIG-A impact assessment

CPC carried out a light-touch post project evaluation on TRIG-A with the following highlights.

All 5 participating organisations believe their project has so far been successful in different ways, primarily basing this on user and operator feedback after the trial.

This is the main way in which the participating organisations have measured their project’s effectiveness.

The feedback suggested that the solutions:

  • were generally needed
  • can lead to a higher use of public transport
  • enabled operators to focus on a set target group with specific needs
  • need further work in most of the projects before rolling out the technologies

All 5 participating organisations reported being presented with opportunities (business or otherwise) as a direct result of the TRIG-A programme.

These include engaging with transport operators, local and combined authorities and event operators. One company has also reported direct funding being received from a transport operator to further develop various technology solutions.

All of the 5 participating organisations reported that the TRIG-A programme has helped them to increase their revenue (during the programme or in the near future).

The value of the estimated revenue over the next 5 years, directly enabled by the TRIG-A programme, ranges from £50,000 to over £1 million. The companies reported different figures along the entire spectrum with 3 of the 5 participating organisations indicated that the TRIG-A programme has helped them to secure investment (during the programme or in the near future), valued at over £2 million.

You can request further details from TRIG2021@cp.catapult.co.uk.

TRIG-A project details

Chrome Angel Solutions

Project title

Accessible travel virtual reality simulation for passengers

Project summary

Travelling on UK railways can be really challenging for people with a wide range of mobility and cognitive impairments and mental health conditions.

Our project demonstrated a highly realistic, interactive and immersive VR simulation of a railway journey, titled ‘Serious Game’. It incorporated the accessibility arrangements and customer support in place at stations and on trains. This enables passengers to explore and interact with them to build confidence and familiarity in advance of travel.

Activities

Northern Accessibility User Group and the Community Rail Lancashire community groups were recruited to support the process of designing and then testing the simulation.

A cast of characters were developed along with a detailed map of the customer experience with physical and emotional challenges. A realistic and interactive end-to-end railway journey environment was then optimised to run on a wide range of low-powered mobile devices.

Alpha and beta simulation releases on Apple, Google and Windows have been extensively tested with users and demonstrated across the industry.

Conclusion

The project has successfully demonstrated that this solution is technically feasible. A high-quality simulation has been developed that will operate on several generations of mobile technology and tablets.

The application has been successfully released in Apple, Google Play (Android) and Windows stores, so is proven ready for production deployment. Testing has shown that users can successfully use the simulation with good performance.

Feedback has successfully demonstrated the feasibility of using it to engage customers in building confidence to take a railway journey as well as significant market interest.

Commercial opportunities generated

The environment and game mechanics developed in TRIG can be applied to almost any railway-based scenario for staff. Through engagement with Northern Rail during this project, several significant concepts are currently under active development.

All these applications have potential industry-wide scope and beyond, once proven effective at Northern Rail.

Chrome Angel now has multiple new applications in discussion and can see qualified opportunities for £250,000 to £500,000 revenue growth in the next year.

Briteyellow

Project title

BriteWay-XR

Project summary

A mixed-reality passenger application with vision, voice and haptic feedback to enhance wayfinding and customer experience. VR journey planning brings familiarity to those who have never visited a station, helping to reduce connection anxiety.

It offers wearable technology and provides actionable insights for transport operators and passengers.

Activities

Station mapping in 360 VR at 3 stations. Station maps conversion into navigable grids (BriteLocate GRID system) to build an accurate model of crowd density across each station.

An enhanced ultra-precision passenger tracking system was implemented to make the passenger tracking system more robust for station environments.

A new high accuracy real-time crowd monitoring system was developed to monitor an entire station. A staff and passenger app was then developed and demonstrated.

Conclusion

TRIG-A has allowed Briteyellow to improve the design of their sensors and to optimise their efficiency. All features of the product have been shown to be technically feasible and deployable at scale.

The next step is for extended user trials which is planned to start with Transport for Wales. Even if Briteway only makes a small percentage improvement in the efficiency of these assists, that would amount to a significant saving for station operators.

Commercial opportunities generated

The project has had a crucial impact for Briteyellow. It has allowed the company to enter contract negotiations with several train operating companies.

It will also encourage more disabled people to choose rail travel. Briteyellow is now engaged in discussions with train operators on projects with an estimated value of £2 million.

Ostrum Tech

Project title

Purple Flow platform for disabled air travellers

Project summary

The Purple Flow project from Ostrum Tech Limited, was designed to build a multi-airport digital assistance platform. This was to bridge the communication gap between passengers with reduced mobility (PRM) and assistance providers, while also improving the operational efficiency.

Activities

Ostrum Tech interviewed passengers and assistance providers and conducted requirement analysis. Cyber and general data protection regulation (GDPR) process documentation was created.

Testing and trials with users were completed while system, database, and infrastructure design was established during the project.

Conclusion

The project produced a minimum viable product (MVP) for passengers with disabilities and assistance providers and it was trialled at Luton airport.

There is demand from the market and the product will be adopted by airports in the UK and around the world. Further development is required to make it ready for production.

Commercial opportunities generated

The TRIG programme has helped Ostrum to have meaningful discussions with potential customers and refine their business model. Ostrum has been able to gain the confidence of Wilson James due to the success of the MVP they built with TRIG funding.

The business opportunity is around enabling the Ostrum platform at Luton, Heathrow and Gatwick airports as the airport assistance, all of which are managed by Wilson James.

Sightcall

Project title

TravelAssist

Project summary

A journey planning tool delivering real-time, remote video support for travellers as needed, combining 3 existing services to deliver a support solution for vulnerable travellers.

The services are:

  • SightCall
  • You.Smart.Thing travel assistant
  • Transport for Greater Manchester’s (TfGM)

Activities

The SightCall Visual Support tool had to be integrated into the You.Smart.Thing travel assistant including an ‘Assist Me’ button. The TfGM support desk then needed to be trained on the use of the service and the specific requirements of visually impaired travellers (the user group selected for this pilot).

Conclusion

Real time support can help to alleviate some of the anxieties experienced by travellers with additional needs, as well as non-disabled travellers who are new to an area.

Additional training needs to be available to the support teams to deliver a consistent, valuable service to the traveller.

Commercial opportunities generated

The TRIG-A programme has led to an understanding of how different private partners can combine to deliver more advanced, specialist solutions for the public sector.

SightCall is now having conversations with the Greater Manchester Combined Authorities (GMCA) and is scoping a new potential project with You.Smart.Thing. This will involve developing a prototype solution to support electric vehicle charging across the UK.

You. Smart. Thing.

Project title

Travability

Project summary

Aimed to increase the use of public transport by disabled people, especially those undertaking journeys with multiple operators.

It addressed the complex challenges of integrating assistance support services offered by different and disconnected service providers, which undermine the experience of disabled customers attempting to complete multi-modal journeys.

Activities

Workshops were conducted with Goss Consulting and their panellists who helped to address the challenges faced every day by disabled users. Use case scenarios were established while profile preferences enhanced to match disabled user needs.

You. Smart. Thing. wrote and implemented functional specification for the journey assistance request service. The system was successfully piloted in Cardiff and Birmingham for users with a range of assistance needs to carry out journeys to venues.

Participants of the pilot were surveyed to provide feedback of system.

Conclusion

The successful collaboration between You. Smart. Thing., Goss Consulting and Transport for Wales helped to deliver iterative, agile software development of a robust web app (PWA) dashboard and back-end and continuous deployment (CI/CD) architecture.

It also meant enhancements were made to the system in line with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), as well as, system test and issue resolution, including rigorous testing with screen readers.

Commercial opportunities generated

The feature was sold to a few customers and new opportunities are being explored to exploit the results of the project.

A strong post project exploitation plan has been built to commercialise the research, with deployments already planned with:

  • Birmingham 2022
  • Rugby League World Cup
  • Coventry City of Culture
  • Transport for West Midlands
  • Transport for Greater Manchester
  • Transport for Wales
  • Tameside Borough Council
  • East Lothian Council
  • Transport for Scotland

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