Transport Secretary Grant Shapps MP has announced the 30 winners of the 2021 First of a Kind (FOAK) competition that will share the £9 million prize-fund.
This year, the competition, organised annually by the Department for Transport (DfT) in partnership with Innovate UK, is focused on developing pioneering technology and exceptional ideas that can improve journeys for travellers, encourage passengers back onto the network and reduce the environmental impacts of rail as we build back better from COVID-19. This year, it has been aimed at making the railways cleaner, greener and more passenger-friendly.
The list of winners includes:
- A virtual reality immersive journey planning app for trains and stations, which could soon make journeys easier by reducing passenger anxiety and helping passengers to understand their journey ahead of travelling;
- A system to monitor people flow, congestion points and behaviour at stations, so operators can remove bottlenecks and deploy countermeasures, helping people avoid crowds and restoring passenger confidence in the rail system post COVID-19;
- A scheme that provides an interchangeable interior train carriage for quick, deep cleaning and allows operators to rejig a trains seating layout at short notice – reacting to demand, keeping passengers safe and freeing up space;
- A project that uses electromagnetism to deliver safe and predictable braking in harsh conditions, while improving acceleration;
- A scheme that aims to deliver a train running on hydrogen and a hydrogen gas blend promising low emissions and an even greener railway.
Announcing the winners, Grant Shapps said: “These winners will hopefully play a role in putting passengers at the centre of our railways as we build back better from COVID-19.
“The competition always throws up surprises and the ideas shown today could transform how we travel in future.”
Now in its fifth round, the competition was open to inventors from across the nation, regardless of the organisation’s size or stature, which allows small companies with bright ideas to be recognised.
Previous winners include the LoCe (Less oil, Cleaner exhaust) project that secured £398,000 in 2020. The project has developed new diesel exhaust technology that reduces nitrogen oxide emissions by around 80%. The technology has now been fitted to a Porterbrook-owned Class 170 Turbostar, operated by East Midlands Railway, and has subsequently reduced harmful engine emissions.
Simon Edmonds, deputy executive chairman and chief business officer of Innovate UK, said: “As we move ever closer to getting past the pandemic, passengers are returning to the railway. To give them ever greater confidence that rail is safe and sustainable, we called upon UK innovators to come up with fresh ideas.
“Yet again the response has been fantastic. Not only will passengers benefit from these great innovations, but business prospects are bright in this sector too.”
The Railway Industry Association (RIA), the voice of the UK rail supply community, welcomed the announcement of further funding for rail innovations as part of the First of a Kind initiative.
David Clarke, RIA technical director, said: “With the First of a Kind initiative now in its fifth round, we hope that many of these past projects are now being picked up and implemented, for the benefit of passengers and freight users.
“Even before the Coronavirus pandemic, it was difficult for innovators to secure support and funding to scale up projects so that they could be ready to deploy on the rail network, but now – when many businesses are facing uncertain times following the pandemic – these businesses must have the support they need.
“We need to ensure there is no hiatus in decision making for the implementation of projects whilst rail revenue recovers. In fact, now is the time to implement these innovations at scale, as we seek to encourage passengers back and spark an economic recovery across the UK.”