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Data science for the transport industry

Academics and a student from BU’s Department of Computing and Informatics worked with Bournemouth-based technology company We Are Base and its subsidiary, Passenger Technology Group, on data analytics for the bus transport industry.

We Are Base has worked with companies in the transport sector since 2008, building websites for various bus operators before building its first mobile ticketing app in 2015. By summer 2015, the company had introduced a Research and Development/ data science team which was supported by an Innovate UK funded Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with BU.

The KTP saw BU PhD student, Manuel Salvador, join We Are Base as an R&D Engineer with initial support from Professor Bogdan Gabrys and supervision from Professor Marcin Budka, a specialist in machine learning and data science from BU.

Shortly after, Passenger Technology Group was formed to provide a foundation for We Are Base’s software product development for the transport sector. Passenger has since created a suite of connected products predominately for bus operators, including mobile apps for passengers.

Those mobile apps provided Manuel and Professor Budka with a wealth of anonymised data for their research, most of which had wide-reaching implications for the bus industry that could be used to improve operators’ services. For example, data was collected from the route planning function that could demonstrate what routes were popularly searched for. This data could empower operators to understand what routes they should be running based on demand.

The partnership between We Are Base and the Department of Computing and Informatics has resulted in a number of significant outputs including five funding bids and two journal articles. One of the most significant results is the development of an ETA prediction engine that uses real-time data and machine-learned analytics to accurately predict arrival time, helping passengers to better plan their journeys. This technology is now integrated within the offerings from Passenger – an industry first in a sector that formerly had many third-party companies providing this service.

Professor Budka uses data from the collaboration in his teaching at university and, together with some of the team at We Are Base, ran a workshop at BU’s Festival of Learning 2016 on Big Data. The KTP ended with the completion of Manuel’s PhD, which was awarded in 2017.

Matt Morgan, Operations Director at We Are Base, commenting on the lasting impact of the collaboration, said: “Having the opportunity to work with skilled academics enabled our business to investigate and then invest in areas that otherwise would have remained out of reach for us. Professor Budka and his team have added value from day one and continue to do so even now that the KTP has now come to an end.” 

Funding has been secured for another PhD student to work with Professor Budka and We Are Base to further develop the ETA prediction engine, continuing the Fusion of education, research and practice in data science at Bournemouth.

Manuel, now Dr Salvador, said: “Joining a KTP as part of my PhD studies allowed me an insight into the unique challenges of industry and of academia. I think KTPs help to develop a culture of innovation within UK based companies and also make academics more aware of the problems facing industry which is a good thing because, too often, industry and academia can become separated.

“One of the first challenges I encountered was finding a way for everyone to understand each other where there are big differences not only in the way that industry and academia do things, but also in the way they talk about it. Working at Base during my PhD has been really interesting and it’s clear to me that this Fusion approach has both short and long-term benefits for all involved.”