Emma Frost, Director of Innovation, Sustainability and Community at the London Legacy Development Corporation, highlights the value of using the Olympic Park to pilot smart technologies that deliver solutions for better urban futures.
When the Olympic Park opened its venues to millions of people during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the promise was made to build homes, boost business, and change lives for east Londoners. Although just under 10 years ago, we wouldn’t have foreseen just how big a role fast paced technological advances and smart innovation on the Park would help make it a global hub for testing and creating new ways of working, moving, learning, producing and engaging different approaches for better urban design and living.
The Park has rapidly been established as an area of innovation and collaboration where world leading accessibility and sustainability standards have been embedded in its design and operation. Through its recognition as a smart, sustainable district, the ambition of the Park is to demonstrate that it is possible to test and use new technology and integrated approaches, to innovate and support the operation of efficient, low carbon, connected and future-ready places.
People are at the heart of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. From the magic of the 2012 Games, to the mental and physical support it provided local communities during the current pandemic; people make the Park thrive.
It is the Park’s unique blend of physical, digital and community connectivity that is fundamental to its success as an innovation hub.
Over the last five years, as the Park has developed as a smart district, we’ve learnt first-hand that this is not just about tech but about how people relate to tech and regulate new emerging technologies. At the Park, we believe in testing this, as much as the tech functionality. Behaviour change and regulation reform must always be considered in terms of applied tech solutions. At Here East, a tech campus on the Park which homes the likes of Ford Smart Mobility and BT Sport, we have utilised employee expertise along with the opportunity which comes with 560 acres of parkland to fast track the UK’s smart mobility revolution. For some time now, visitors to the Park have found themselves walking alongside small driverless robots or even seen a rocket jet pack demonstration!
We’ve seen the excitement around the growth of e-scooters across Europe, a way to get from A to B saving time otherwise spent waiting in traffic jams or queues, saving money otherwise spent on filling up your car and saving the planet by choosing a green way to travel.
Over the past two years we have been using the Park as a testbed for the Bird e-scooter trial, looking at rider behaviour and sustainable impact as well as general interest among the public, and it is helping the Government shape legislation on how they will be used in the future. This is no small task when we realise that it is the first new mobility transport option that the UK government has allowed by law – for now on private land – in decades.
The Park is also at the heart of advancing autonomous vehicles, trialling driverless Capri pods which ultimately aim to allow you to hail a pod via an app, choose a destination, pay electronically and enjoy the ride. This is as well as the Smart Mobility Living Lab (SMLL), which has been utilising the Park as one of two testing environments for developing future transport technologies, services and business models.
While e-cargo bikes have been helping last mile logistics and encouraging lorries off the road by delivering smaller items to your door, innovators are now looking at how we can use these on the Park’s construction sites, carrying up to 250kg of material in one delivery. This could be a game changer in terms of reducing local congestion, improving air quality locally and supporting a greener industry wide shift.
Sticking with bikes, Bikeworks is a social enterprise based on the Park that was born from the ambition and aspiration of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. They are part of the growing innovation community on the Park, driving a micro mobility and active travel revolution – with a focus on inclusivity and accessibility for all. Through designing, prototyping and building adapted bikes to running all ability cycle training programmes, buddy support schemes and smart connected devices to help share real time information.
Using smart mobility in all it’s different guise to rethink movement and the systems that support it, has huge potential to increase inclusion, help us move more easily and healthily, while reducing our carbon footprint. Investing in smart mobility is just one aspect of the wider inclusive innovation work on the Park, and sits alongside future solutions for clean tech, engineering, health and wellbeing, cultural and creative industries and many more.
We’re sure our visitors will be seeing all types of new and dynamic smart tech-companions on the Park as we look ahead to the next exciting decade of testing and learning how to deliver solutions for better urban futures.