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TP Blog: sky high thinking

Floor to ceiling windows from a top storey at the Nova North building provided a superb vantage point over the roofs of Westminster and out across St James’s Park. Having just spied a large drone being shown off inside the building, it brought to mind the futuristic vision of hundreds of the devices one day flying back and forth delivering parcels – or maybe even people – to relieve congestion on the streets below.

But for now the drones, like the one on show inside the building, are starting to pay their way by carrying out site surveys and inspections of transport infrastructure assets to an impressive level of detail from a height of around 100m.

Future signalling systems for the railways were also showcased, along with biometric facial recognition to allow passengers to move through an airport more quickly. There was also technology on display that can simulate a cyber attack on transport control systems to allow steps to be taken to make infrastructure more secure.

Guests were also invited to use virtual reality to navigate an offshore wind turbine. But they had to settle for video footage of a ‘collaborative robot’ mimicking the actions of a human arm to carry out repetitive tasks, as the robot was held up at Heathrow after arriving on a flight from Canada.

Atkins’ president Philip Hoare told his guests that the technology on show promises to help the sector deliver improved productivity and reduce environmental impact, and that digital partners are increasingly working with his company to deliver future systems.

He was asked what excites him most about the future of transport over the coming years. “The rise of autonomous vehicles and how we use our infrastructure; potentially allowing our cities to be better, cleaner, greener and to bring people closer together,” Philip replied. “I really hope as a society we take advantage of autonomous vehicles; giving people access to travel, connecting communities and making cities better places to live.”

He was asked if new technology could help to address the skills shortage in engineering. “Absolutely: 50% of our organisation is under the age of 35 and we are thinking differently how we deliver solutions,” he said. “We are teaching our engineers how to code and we are attracting mathematicians and scientists too.”

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