By Laura Peacock, Head of the Innovation Hub of the District Council
Innovation is in the DNA of Oxfordshire – in our thriving district there are some real world leaders in technology and transportation. Why should I want to work elsewhere?
Oxfordshire was the first council to include networked and autonomous vehicles in its local transport plan, and has not stopped innovating ever since. Since 2015, we have raised around £ 100 million to be directly involved in the development of technology here in Oxfordshire – both to improve people's lives and to contribute to the economy.
I joined the Oxfordshire County Council after leaving my hometown of Liverpool to work for Oxfam at Fairtrade and finance projects before becoming a Planning Officer for Minerals and Waste.
My job now is to help bring to life the incredible talents, the potential and the expertise we have in Oxfordshire to develop things that benefit people directly – whether in Oxfordshire or the United States Live Britain.
Currently, I am the Innovation Hub Manager of the Oxfordshire County Council. I play a key role in making people-oriented solutions at the heart of smart infrastructure, energy and mobility systems and projects that can improve the local economy, the environment and the overall quality of life of Oxfordshire and UK citizens ,
Our county is a world leader in science and technology innovation, particularly in the life sciences, space technologies, digital sectors, automotive and motorsport industries, heritage, tourism and culture.
It was fantastic to live and work in a county with such a rich history of innovation. For example, we were the first local authority in the UK to study how autonomous vehicles affect the transport network and how we should plan it. Building on this, we were the first council to have a Connected Autonomous Vehicles team that has proven to be critical to providing external funding to the Council and being the authority with the highest number of CAV projects in the UK.
The County Council of Oxfordshire has a number of legal obligations to fulfill for its inhabitants. This of course presents a list of challenges. Be it congestion, accidents, better use of public transport, home care or relief for pedestrians or cyclists. That's just a tiny bit of a pretty long list, but we're now in a position to find ways to respond to these challenges thanks to the technology.
But while the challenges are there and the people who might have the answers are there, things like finance and labor relations are not always cleared up. At the very least, they did not do it until the county council really began to develop its approach to smart technology and the living laboratory.
The job appeals to me because every day I am challenged to work with such different projects and new people in a new way. The projects range from new nationwide energy models, to networked autonomous vehicles, to smart appliances in the home, to enable the people we serve to make more connections and get the best possible care packages.
Bringing together the right people, helping with the search for funding and then seeing the results of these collaborations is really motivating.
One of the key messages of my work is "disruptive technology", which, believe it or not, is a good thing. It means things that have the potential to shake up and even replace old systems and improve things for the better – it's a real game change process.
You've heard of disruptive technologies and may even own some without knowing it. Driverless cars – something my team does to make things happen – are making headlines, but things like the Amazon Alexa have changed the way people interact with their entertainment options, access information and communication, and we've found ways to engage people Disabilities can support care needs to live more independently.
Focusing on data-driven decision-making means we can plan and develop new infrastructure to deliver the right results for our communities.
So what does the future hold for you? Well, technology is currently evolving at an incredible rate and this is leading us to networked autonomous vehicles, the rise of e-commerce and the sharing economy. There is now so much data that the Council can use with the help of small and medium-sized businesses in the county to make some truly incredible changes.
In practice this means things like Mobility as a Service (MaaS). It describes a move away from personal transportation and towards a single service closer to Netflix of Transport.
It is expected that MaaS will rise to 1.75 tonnes worldwide by 2028. Currently only two UK regions are developing a platform – the West Midlands and us here in Oxfordshire.
Many people are thinking of the new transport wave in terms of cars. Connected vehicles – anything that can be connected to a wider system via the Internet – can mean vans, buses, trucks, motorcycles or pedal bicycles. Even wheelchairs could use the new technology to make it easier to travel.
Some things that are being worked on will soon be part of everyday life. You are likely to plan your trips so that they can use quieter times in public transport thanks to a smartphone app.
Whatever the future brings, it's inspiring to think a lot, thanks to the work done in Oxfordshire.