Live Labs Blog

The ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs Programme is a two-year, £22.9m project funded by the Department for Transport that will run until Spring 2021. This page will give regular updates on the project.

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Live Labs blog: Impacts, changed thinking and unexpected opportunities during Covid-19

1 July 2020

In this month’s blog, Giles Perkins, Programme Director for the ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs Programme, talks about the impact of COVID-19 on the projects, how thinking has changed as a result and the unexpected opportunities it has given for the continued delivery of this unique programme.

When the Live Labs initiative was launched in May 2019, no one could have predicted the extraordinary times we find ourselves in with the COVID-19 pandemic. Live Labs is one of the only innovation programmes that started before, will go on after, but has been impacted by COVID-19 explicitly because it’s in the local road sector.

While the situation has presented challenges such as having equipment stuck with suppliers because staff are furloughed, manufacturing constraints impacting on supply chains and not being able to get workers to site because of social distancing issues, it has also offered the opportunity to refocus the outcomes of some of the projects. For example, one Live Lab using data-led innovation to mitigate the effects of rising traffic conditions, particularly air quality, is now focusing on the benefits COVID-19 has given because traffic has reduced and the opportunity now exists to lock in the benefits. 

Across the programme the Live Labs are the same projects, but we have been given the opportunity to view them through a different set of lenses and ask questions that before the pandemic we might not have asked. DfT has officially extended the programme to November 2021, but some Live Labs are still working towards the original deadline of May 2021 – they are not looking at it as an extension, merely a buffer should they need it. In addition we are capturing COVID-19 impacts as part of the monitoring and evaluation process to assist future innovation programmes which may be impacted by shock-events.

The teams have also had to adapt to a new way of working, which has brought about unexpected benefits. Because everything has had to shift online, many have found that working remotely means they are working more smartly. There is less of the lost time normally incurred by travelling to meetings, with a greater focus within online meetings, so, aspects of some projects have been able to be accelerated. Yes, there have been delays but time has been recovered in other ways. 

One of the things we have asked ourselves is could we have prepared ourselves for such a cataclysmic event? Yes, we know that an innovation programme is going to be buffeted by low level things like technology and staff changes, but knowing our recent history of crisis – in the last two decades there has been the outbreak of Foot and Mouth, the fuel crisis, the SARS epidemic, and the economic crash – could we have anticipated this? Of course the very nature of a crisis is that it is completely unpredictable as to when it might happen and what it might look like, but arguably it would be naïve to think there won’t be another. 

There is much to be learnt from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and we are looking at how we use it in a meaningful way for future projects. Future innovation programmes should have strategies specifically for dealing with shock events and external change.

Over the last few months we have seen incredible enthusiasm and energy from the Live Labs teams, with a real determination to continue to deliver these projects. The resilience of the people involved has been very impressive. It has brought the teams closer together and collaboration across the projects has intensified – everyone is reaching out to each other to find new ways of delivering. 

We need to capture this and build on the positives, so that we can be equally agile and resilient when the next shock event comes our way.

More posts

  • 3 June 2020

    Live Labs Blog: Buckingham lights up

    As with all local authority programmes across the country, Buckinghamshire’s Live Lab, a SMART connected community project in Aylesbury Garden Town, has been impacted by COVID-19. While work has continued at a slower pace with some partners furloughing staff and the team working from home, some aspects of the project that began before lockdown, are able to carry on.

    In our latest blog, John Hartley from Exel Composities UK, brings a partner perspective…

    Read more >

  • 16 April 2020

    Live Labs blog: Birmingham test-bed for innovative video analytics

    The Network Resilience Live Lab is progressing well in its aims to use innovative video analytics to help combat road congestion in Birmingham and Solihull. 

    In this blog, we take a look back at the very first trials conducted in February 2019 and how these tests were vital in gathering valuable insight that continues to inform our project activities and deliver best practice.

    Identifying the ideal test route 

    Read more >

  • 9 March 2020

    Suffolk Live Labs: all about that data

    Suffolk County Council’s £4.41m Live Lab is exploring how we can use smart technology across our urban, rural and coastal environments to revolutionise the services we deliver.

    Data is the core of our project and we will be analysing information collected from sensors that monitor road surface temperature, vehicle numbers and classifications, gully levels and air quality to make working efficiencies and reduce costs. We will be testing a multitude of sensors across our differing environments and ultimately working to develop new national standards and guidance.

    Read more >

  • 20 December 2019

    Live Labs blog: project update - Staffordshire doing things differently

    Here in the Staffs Live Lab we are trying to do things a little differently! Over the last two months, we’ve been running the first phase of our Challenge Creation, based around our two focus areas - air quality and intelligent rural mobility. We're aiming to identify the critical issues faced by the county and then develop the tangible challenges that we can release to the SME market.  

    Read more >

  • 3 December 2019

    Live Labs blog: speed dating – the Live Labs way

    Two weeks ago, ADEPT held its annual Autumn Conference in the beautiful city of Bath. Speaking to a packed house of local authorities and corporate partners, Darryl Eyers, the ADEPT President, set the scene for the overall theme ‘Well-connected places in a changing world’.

    The two-day conference covered everything from environmental issues to Brexit, but showcasing innovation and new approaches underpinned it all. For our eight Live Labs, this meant the second day was their time to shine!

    Read more >

  • 20 November 2019

    Live Labs blog: Hit your targets!

    Monitoring and evaluation might not seem the most exciting aspect of a project, but it is critical.

    For Live Labs, with its focus on scalability, shared learning and value for money, it is essential, both for the performance of each project and the programme as a whole. When done properly, the process provides vital feedback on progress, pinpoints areas that need support, as well as helping to identify and realise all the potential benefits.

    Read more >

  • 15 November 2019

    Live Labs blog: Project update - location, location, location!

    This month’s project update comes from the East of England and the team from Central Bedfordshire. 

    Kinetic walkways, solar carparks and thermal de-icing are the exciting new trials being developed by the Central Bedfordshire Live Labs team.

    Harvesting renewable energy to support the smart highways of the future is the focus for the team, which includes Ringway Jacobs, Eurovia, Colas and PaveGen. When colleagues from the Department for Transport visited last week, the team were keen to show how outline designs were shaping up for the proposed site locations:

    Read more >

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