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Winners revealed of rail tech competition to create 'pandemic-proof' travel

An AI-powered crowd monitor and an immersive virtual reality journey planner are among the recipients of a £9 million investment

A mockup of Mission Room's immersive journey planner

The UK government has revealed the winners of a competition to create 'pandemic-proof' transport technology across the country's railway network. 

The fifth round of the 'First of a Kind' competition has focused on digital services that can improve rail journeys and encourage passengers back onto the train once lockdown restrictions lift. 

Winners include a 360-degree virtual reality journey planning app for trains and stations, built by Mission Rooms, that aims to take complexity, or anxiety, out of commuting with simple immersive images and information that relate to the user's journey. The technology can be accessed via the web, in station touchscreens, or on a smartphone as an app.

Another winner is a startup called Dynamic Crowd Measurement which uses AI and CCTV footage to monitor the flow of people onto stations and carriages. This is used to map congestion points so operators can remove bottlenecks and implement countermeasures. The firm is also promising to put this information in the hands of commuters so they can make more informed decisions about their journeys.

The competition was open to inventors from across the UK, regardless of the size of the organisation, or its stature, which allowed for startups or SMBs with bright ideas to be recognised.

Around 30 projects have been awarded a share of £9 million, provided by the Department for Transport and Innovate UK.

"As we move ever closer to getting past the pandemic, passengers are returning to the railway,' said Simon Edmons, the deputy executive chair of Innovate UK.

"To give them ever greater confidence that rail is safe and sustainable, we called upon UK innovators to come up with fresh ideas. Yet again the response has been fantastic. Not only will passengers benefit from these great innovations, but business prospects are bright in this sector too."

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