Costly transport planning could be a thing of the past with the launch of new software aimed at designing complicated traffic junctions efficiently and sustainably within seconds. Thanks to a successful business academic partnership, Fast-Answers will enable developers to make design decisions quickly, significantly reducing project development costs, minimising risk and rapidly eliminating infeasible options.

The Business Challenge

“While working on major urban expansion plans in Dubai I realised that there were two major issues within transport and urban planning - the ability to give fast answers to a range of engineering problems in the early planning stages and the lack of industry tools designed to specifically respond to these problems” says Managing Director of Fast-Answers, John Codd, who has over 35 years’ experience of international transport planning and engineering.

“One of the main areas that the tool is most effective in is allowing engineers and planners to answer the big questions early on within a project’s design phase. Currently many of the more complex infrastructure decisions cannot be made until more detailed analysis has been completed in the later stages of project evolution, and this increases cost, or risk if decisions are made with insufficient information.”

Codd will take Fast-Answers to Tonga, which is made up of 176 islands in the South Pacific, where the tool will be used to assist in the urban design of the main island, and will help produce a new transport system. He then heads to Mauritius to speed up the development of the transport network there, which will support the urban development plans for the next 20 years.

The Solution

The successful business academic partnership between Fast-Answers and Edinburgh Napier University was instigated by Interface – the knowledge connection for business – which introduced the firm to academics after recognising that the product required further development.

Junction design involves estimation and prediction in areas such as traffic flow, capacities, queues and delays at non-signalised priority junctions, co-ordinated traffic signal timings, roundabouts and motorway junctions. The new software developed and tested by experienced traffic and software planners, as well as leading academics from the Edinburgh Napier University Transport Research Institute (TRI) and Institute for Informatics and Digital Innovation (IIDI), works out highly complex sustainable junction designs within seconds of inserting traffic flow data.

The programming algorithm developed for traffic signals optimisation has been crafted as a stand-alone module, but will have wider ranging business applications.

Dr Wafaa Saleh, Reader and lead academic for the project within Transport Research Institute (TRI) said “This is an important development in the area of junction design and sustainability; it will save time, effort and provide efficient solutions for junction design. Our expertise and proficiency in this area are fundamental to the development of the algorithms of the traffic signal optimisation required for the development of the software. We are extremely proud and enthused to be a major part of this project, which will provide practitioners and planners with the right tools to make more cost effective decisions and efficient transport planning.”

Alistair Lawson, lecturer and lead academic for the project within IIDI’s Centre for Distributed Computing Networking and Security (CDCS) said “Our specialism is crucial to implementing the algorithms as well as developing the software infrastructure required for both Fast-Answers and the supporting business infrastructure in a scalable, robust and secure manner.”

The research team, together with fast-answers, successfully applied for research funding from EDTC Technology Gateway and from TTOM (Technology Transfer Opportunity Mechanism) supported by Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Government and the European Regional Development Fund.

The experimental work on the junction design problem motivated further research to investigate how the optimisation technology can be applied to a broader range of transportation problems and to explore how the techniques can be developed to a range of sectors, such as electrical engineering and business.