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The University of Southampton

University to trial new approaches to freight and mobility

Published: 20 March 2020

The Department for Transport has announced that the Solent region will benefit from £28m of investment for innovative transport and mobility projects. Researchers from the University of Southampton played a key role in the bid and will receive a share of the funding to work alongside local authorities.

Teams from the School of Engineering will work with Solent Transport partnership (comprising Southampton City Council, Portsmouth City Council, Isle of Wight Council, and Hampshire County Council) on two projects – one looking at freight (including the use of drones for hospital logistics) and one looking at improving mobility and reducing car dependency.

Tom Cherrett, (Professor of Logistics and Transport Management) and Jim Scanlan (Professor of Design) will lead research into how drones could be used as a new approach to freight distribution, potentially including freight trials for NHS deliveries across the Solent to the Isle of Wight.   Dr James Pritchard will lead research in to Mobility as a Service schemes, ultimately leading to an upgrade of the Solent Go multi-operator smartcard to an app-based platform.

Explaining the background to the research, Professor Tom Cherrett said: “At the moment we rely very heavily on road vehicles for all our deliveries which has a knock-on impact on air quality and congestion. We will not suddenly be replacing these with drones but for certain product types, it makes sense to investigate how they might be used in combination with traditional logistics fleets to service remote areas.

“The concept of using drones to deliver medical supplies has been proven in countries such as Rwanda and most recently Ghana where un-manned aerial vehicles are making over 500 flights per day, helping to save lives by reaching isolated communities quickly and cheaply.”

The research will look at how drones could be integrated within existing delivery fleets and the regulatory and logistical implications for implementing such flightpaths. The first phase of the project will be to develop a simulation environment to model how manned and unmanned aircraft might co-exist in shared airspace. This could then lead to prototype testing of small payload freight movements across the Solent region.

“At present, UK regulations mean that drones cannot fly beyond-visual-line-of-sight and there is no co-ordinated system to manage their use alongside regular manned aircraft. All this, along with developing safe flight paths and drone technology will have to be undertaken before we see the wide spread use of such new transport systems.

“However, it is vital that we think big and look at how we can make the best use of this technology. As the Solent region is spread out over land and water, such systems could make a huge difference in overcoming transport difficulties.”

Dr Pritchard and his colleagues (including Human Factors experts) will be seeking to understand how Mobility as a Service (MaaS) schemes can be developed effectively outside major urban centres, providing improved access to transport and reducing the reliance on the private car.  Initial trials will take place at the University of Southampton and at the University of Portsmouth and will include staff, students and visitors.  In Southampton, we will be working closely with the successful UniLink franchise.  Ultimately, the proposal is to roll a MaaS scheme out across the region, under the existing Solent Go brand.

Dr Pritchard said: “We are taking a pragmatic approach, accepting that as things stand many people in this area rely on a car for certain journeys.  However, we are hoping that by incentivising the use of a MaaS app which will display parking options and the costs of driving, as well as making it easy to use other modes of transport, we will encourage people to make more sustainable choices.  With zero-carbon targets looming and air quality remaining a concern in our city, this funding provides a really exciting opportunity to make a positive difference.”


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