Manchester, UK, rolls out first ever AI-controlled smart intersections with Vivacity Labs

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Vivacity Labs and Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) have announced the roll out of AI-controlled ‘smart’ traffic junctions. The news comes after the initiative was declared winner of the Innovative Use of Technology award at the 2020 Intelligent Transport Systems, ITS (UK) Awards last week.

Using sensors with inbuilt artificial intelligence, Vivacity enables TfGM to anonymously identify different types of road users at selected junctions and control traffic signals to allow different modes of transportation to be prioritised as and when required, which means the system is particularly adept at catering for the increase of active travel modes, such as cycling and walking, in the city during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Vivacity Labs’ first-of-its-kind AI signal control system first went live early this year, before scaling to simultaneously control three, neighbouring junctions in the Blackfriars area of Salford in September 2020. This initiative also has the potential to reduce emissions and improve air quality in the Greater Manchester area. Congestion and queuing can be reduced by traffic signals that respond better and more quickly to changes in traffic conditions than existing systems.

VivaCity technology being demonstrated in Oxford, UK

This comes as part of a three-year Innovate UK co-funded programme (alongside Immense Simulations) to use AI to optimise traffic networks. Vivacity Labs has developed an algorithm that is able to adapt quickly to changing traffic conditions and efficiently implement high-level strategies at both local and city-wide scales.

There has been a nation-wide boom in the number of cyclists since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold. With people avoiding public transport when getting around towns and cities, and the daily commute changing for many in the longer term, innovation in transportation is a pressing need across the UK.

“Since the pandemic, commuter trends and traffic hotspots have changed completely, and cities need AI to help protect people no matter what mode of transport they take,” said Mark Nicholson, CEO of Vivacity Labs. “Our vision is to help cities implement critical policies addressing safety, air quality, sustainable travel, and congestion, at a hyper-local level.”

Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: “Smart traffic technology is just one of the many ground-breaking areas the government is funding to pioneer new ways for artificial intelligence and 5G to transform our lives for the better. We’re backing this initiative in (Greater) Manchester to improve the city’s transport, reduce journey times and cut pollution. I look forward to seeing its positive impact and sharing the lessons across the UK.”

Richard Dolphin, Highways Network Performance Manager at Transport for Greater Manchester commented: “Having already developed an innovative product in terms of their sensing technology, Vivacity has become well-versed in the relevant standards and have made impressive strides in the continuing development of their Smart Junctions system. We’ve been really impressed with how Vivacity has approached this, assessing current ways of working and addressing the complexities of managing a multi-modal transport network. Hopefully, this development will continue into something that will positively disrupt the industry and revolutionise active travel in urban areas.”

The project has secured additional investment to expand throughout the trial region via the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport’s ‘5G Create fund’ which was announced in July 2020. The project will scale up to an area of 20 junctions in Manchester by the end of 2021 and aims to demonstrate impact in the real world in the form of improved journey quality for all road users in this region.

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs in charge of public agencies around the world as well as chairmen and CEOs of multinational transportation technology corporations. Tom's early career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).