The team of innovators behind the highly successful “HackTrain” initiative that has been credited with bringing fresh thinking into the rail sector, has received heavyweight backing to start a new initiative focusing on solving challenges in infrastructure more widely.
Hack Partners, the company behind the “HackTrain” rail innovation movement, is to launch the new initiative called InfraHack for the infrastructure sector with backing from Network Rail, Mott MacDonald, Bentley Systems, KPMG and the National Infrastructure Commission.
“InfraHack” will focus on in innovation around: smart infrastructure, utilising Internet of Things (IoT) technologies; performance optimisation through data analytics; and machine learning and new commercial business models.
Hack Partners CEO, River Tamoor Baig, said his reasoning behind entering the infrastructure sector was because “aside from health and finance, no other industry impacts as many people as infrastructure does, from the highways that we drive on to the water that we drink, being able to use public and private infrastructure is a daily part of our lives.
“However, to cope with increases in demand, ageing assets, and changes in user behaviour, we as an industry must innovate the way we build and operate new and existing infrastructure.”
Baig adds: “At our last HackTrain event, we included a challenge from the Office of Road & Rail around helping them track the performance of Network Rail’s Major Enhancements Projects more efficiently. One of the outcomes from our Hackathon is now being used by the ORR team day-to-day to predict and prevent projects from going over budget and being delayed.
“This and the macro changes we’re seeing around digital transformation highlighted that a HackTrain initiative in the infrastructure sector could add a lot of value and really help accelerate the adoption of new technology in the industry.”
Baig and his team will spend the next six months collecting challenges from industry stakeholders and work with them to unlock datasets never before released to the public. In parallel, he hopes to attract other partners to the initiative, citing that “for the initiative to be a success it needs to not only solve tangible problems, but also, to have a healthy amount of industry players involved so that these problems can be solved at scale.”
Once sufficient challenges have been gathered the Hack Partners team will run the first InfraHack Hackathon event from 22-24 March 2019. “We’ll be bringing together over 100 innovators from the tech industry, giving them data from the likes of Highways England, Heathrow Airport, and Network Rail,” says Baig.
“The objective of the Hackathon will be for innovators to use this data to come up with new ways of solving the aforementioned challenges using new technologies like augmented reality, artificial intelligence and drones.”
National Infrastructure Commission CEO Phil Graham welcomed the new InfraHack: “Whether through the development of our advice to government, or our Young Professionals Panel bringing together 16 talented individuals across the sector, we always want to hear about the latest ideas and new perspectives on how we meet the country’s future infrastructure needs.
“I’m therefore excited to see how the industry as a whole can benefit from Hack Partners’ experience through this new InfraHack initiative, and how this could lead to the use of the latest technologies and development of new innovations to bring long-term improvements to our infrastructure network.”
Network Rail’s head of buildings and architecture, Anthony Dewar said: “To put it simply - I loved the HackTrain at InnoTrans. My team are really excited about the results we had from the hackers – my two challenges made it to the final! One, using Amazon Alexa, resulted in a developed proof of concept which will improve our business efficiency. The second, involving artificial intelligence, has really got us excited – we see it as a catalyst to revolutionise and introduce efficiencies to an existing costly engineering activity, that will benefit Network Rail as well as the wider infrastructure industry.”
Mott Macdonald chief technical officer, Mark Enzer, said: “Hack Partners has a great track record of injecting cutting-edge relevance, so we’re really looking forward to working with the best minds in the industry, transforming infrastructure performance for the benefit of our ultimate customers.’
In March 2015, Hack Partners CEO, River Tamoor Baig, set out to drive forward innovation in rail by creating a movement now known as the “HackTrain”. Baig, wanting to improve the way trains were operated in the North of England having travelled on them for several years, decided to do something other than just complain.
In setting up HackTrain, he hoped to help operators improve customer experience and operational efficiency through the use of new technology and data.
Baig’s vision was kick-started by running a “Hackathon”, a 48-hour event bringing together software developers, graphic designers, and entrepreneurs challenging them to create tech prototypes that solved some of the rail industry’s biggest challenges.
To make things even more difficult, these would-be rail innovators were put in live train services travelling across the country. The benefit of doing this was to allow the innovators to experience the problems they were solving firsthand and also gain feedback about their ideas from fellow passengers.
What started off as a one-off event supported by Virgin Trains, Network Rail, and a host of other rail companies, has grown to what is now recognised as the driving force of innovation in the rail industry. Hack Partners has worked with every major transport group in the UK, enhancing its innovation capabilities and solving real-world problems via the ideas generated by the Hackathons.
As an example, Trainline benefited from the initiative with the creation of the tool “BusyBot” - ideated in HackTrain 2.0. Designed to help passengers find a seat on trains the tool is used annually by 9 million passengers.
Furthermore, Hack Partners released a report providing an in-depth honest analysis of barriers to innovation in the rail industry.
Hack Partners has also launched a podcast in which it will be sharing what the team have learned on their journey so far and also interviewing prominent industry figures including Philip Graham, the CEO of the National Infrastructure Commission.
You can listen to the first Hack Partners podcast via the links below.