AI system speeds ambulances through Liverpool streets

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Liverpool-based design and technology company Red Ninja is using its home city as a testing ground to develop an intelligent transport system that uses traffic light management systems to clear a route for ambulances on emergency calls.

Red Ninja aims to ‘create better futures’, specializing in healthcare and transport among other sectors, and received funding from the UK government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK in 2016 for its Life First Emergency Traffic Control (LiFE) project.

The company had found that ambulances were not hitting their response times because roads in large cities like Liverpool had become increasingly congested. After a long period of research, gaining and analyzing big data around the way traffic lights are used to control congestion, the Red Ninja team realized that they could manipulate traffic almost in real time. They then employed artificial intelligence (AI) to develop an algorithm that could create a clear run through the traffic. The system enables ambulances to reach emergency cases more quickly by integrating ambulance route-finder applications with city traffic management systems.

The £222,000 (US$287,000) grant from Innovate UK for the LiFE project helped Red Ninja to accelerate its research capabilities and to scale its engineering and data science teams. Ambulance services across the UK are required to meet 75% of life-threatening cases within eight minutes to guarantee NHS funding and avoid fines. Using the Liverpool ambulance’s existing onboard telematics tracker units, the LiFE software knows where each vehicle is in the city to a five-second resolution. When an emergency call destination is entered, the platform calculates the route and programs the traffic control system to provide it with a series of green lights, keeping ambulance crews informed through the vehicle’s integrated route-finder and navigation application. Red Ninja collaborated on the £688,000 (US$888,800) project with Future Cities Catapult Services, the Transport Systems Catapult (TSC) and Dynniq (formerly Imtech Traffic & Infra UK Ltd).

Red Ninja’s first association with Innovate UK came in 2013, as a partner in the Internet of Things project alongside major companies, such as the computing technology giant ARM. Other products developed by the company include iSensing, sensors, which record how people move around a city in real time. The resulting data is helping city authorities in the UK, Spain and Brazil to plan their transport infrastructure and optimize their waste collection services.

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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