Highways UK | The challenge of turning innovative ideas into reality
There is investment associated with developing innovation, but that of making it ready for market is often much more. Louis Thompson, Costain’s director of digital technology, whose own start up Simulation Systems was acquired by Costain in 2016, discusses the support available to significantly accelerate the process.
From Louis Thompson
“Innovation seems a path to riches open to every man with a dream and a good idea. However, while the idea of writing the next Christmas number one or Harry Potter seems deceptively easy, the reality is that the journey from idea through to stable product sales can be the equivalent of crossing a desert through a path strewn with the bones of failed ideas.
Innovation is a key element of DNA and underlies our success as a species. Looking back over time so many significant milestones can be traced back to an invention or innovation; the wheel, the steam engine, the telephone…
Innovation therefore brings us many benefits: extra capability or performance, improved reliability, efficiency, safety, communications – making new things possible.
As innovators and developers, we understand that not only is there effort and cost associated with developing the innovation, but there is also that of making it ready for market. Marketing an innovation and supporting it through initial sales can expand that again, with exponential increase at each step. The ramp-up can therefore be difficult and many initiatives fall by the wayside before initial costs have been recovered. It can take a lot of energy and some luck to break through with your first sales, and then even more energy to capitalise and expand on those sales.
Recognising the uncertainties and challenges faced by innovators, but more importantly their value to UK PLC, the Government provides considerable support to foster innovation including various forms of support such as R&D and Patentbox tax reliefs.
There are also government initiatives for achieving innovation in specifically targeted areas. For example, Highways England launched two multi-million-pound competitions earlier this year to encourage the country’s most creative minds to come up with unique ideas to change the way the country’s motorways and major A roads are designed, managed and used. The company received more than 200 applications from a diverse range of organisations, with just over a third from micro companies with less than 10 employees.
The projects being funded included new construction materials, different ways of tackling air quality and better use of technology to provide people with a range of information.
At Costain we were delighted to hear this week that our application in collaboration with the very first Intelligent Infrastructure Challenge winners Vivacity has been successful. The project will jointly implement a modular video analytics solution to optimise Highways England CCTV and enhance operations at Regional Control Centres where it will advise and alert Operators to incidents, enabling faster, more effective responses and enhanced operations.
Peter Mildon, Vivacity’s COO, said “Winning the Intelligent Infrastructure Challenge validated to our founding team that we were on to something that the highways market space both wanted and needed. The award gave us credibility with potential clients including Highways England, employees and investors and kicked off a year which saw the company almost triple in size, win large contracts, raise an investment round and set up industry collaboration.”
Costain delivers integrated leading edge smart infrastructure solutions to meet client needs – innovation is fundamental our approach. So we are delighted to be sponsoring the Highways UK Intelligent Infrastructure Challenge in 2019 for the fourth year – and looking forward to encouraging some great new innovations onto centre stage, where a wide audience of clients and influencers will be able to appreciate and potentially use them to improve lives.
Shortlisted entries will present their innovations to panels of industry experts who will painstakingly select the winners. The marketing, networking with clients and potential partners, increased credibility and recognition achieved will be invaluable for the innovators involved, and we are sure this years’ competition will bringing many exciting new products to market.”
Louis Thompson is Costain’s director of digital technology.
Costain is sponsoring the 2019 Intelligent Infrastructure Challenge at Highways UK, which takes place at the NEC on 6/7 November. The deadline for entries for the Intelligent Infrastructure Challenge and its sister competition, the Civils & Materials Innovation Hub, is 31 July