Read ITS (UK)’s Student Essay Award winning entry in full
The UK’s Intelligent Transport Society has recognised creative thinking amongst its early careers professionals, honouring an apprentice and a student member who have won the 2020 ITS (UK) Essay Competition.
The competition asked candidates to imagine their speech at their retirement ceremony. They were asked what impact and influence on the industry they would like to envisage, and what would be the legacy they would like to leave behind.
Ethan Boys from Newcastle University was awarded the prize in the Student category. His full essay is republished below:
Colleagues and friends…. my working ‘family’…. I can’t quite believe the day has come; my energy is finally starting to slow down after almost 40 years working for this company…such a huge and important part of my life. Developing and designing transport solutions has provided me with a real sense of purpose and a feeling that I was making a ‘difference’; I have always enjoyed the challenge to design and build solutions to improve the life of future generations. It’s now time for me to step aside and leave that challenge in the capable hands of the many talented newly qualified engineers coming through our ranks today. I’ve enjoyed seeing them all grow, just as I did when I started my first post in industry.
I’d had varied experiences before I studied Civil Engineering at Newcastle University. I was independent, loved the outdoors and had developed a bug for travelling, having worked a ‘ski season’ in the Alps, inter-railed Europe, and visited the Far East, Australia and California. It was during these experiences that I developed an interest in engineering and the built environment. I started to really notice all kinds of large civil engineering projects and wondered how on earth they were designed and built: The Hoover Damn, Marina Bay in Singapore, Gotthard Base Tunnel through the Alps, and London Crossrail.
All of these projects were world beating and designed to be ‘future proof’ but there was another commonality to them that engaged me – many provided transport solutions, and this was a theme that I developed further throughout my studies. For this reason, during my second year of study I applied for an industrial placement in the Highways team within AECOM. My interest in AECOM was inspired partly by the ground-breaking use of BIM in the design of the A1 Leeming to Barton upgrade project which I used regularly on my journeys to university. Unfortunately for me, that year was 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic, putting placement on hold and meaning my 3rd year studies were all online. Looking back, this developed a deeper level of independence, determination and resilience in me that I would utilise during my career.
When I finally did join the Highways team, I would never have envisaged the length of career and the highlights that it would present. I’ve worked on projects all across the world, leading design teams in both practical and advisory roles. I’ve lived for periods in Australia, the States and the Middle East, but mostly returning to my UK roots. How lucky am I? Working here has fulfilled as many of my career and life ambitions as any other job I could imagine. It’s been nothing but enriching, satisfying and engaging throughout.
So, what have been my highlights? As a masters graduate back in the early 20’s, there was a definite ‘step-change’ happening towards prioritising the minimisation of the environmental impact of travel & transport. Smart motorways were already being built utilising ground-breaking technologies to track, control, manage and improve traffic flow and incidents. It had been announced that petrol & diesel cars were to be phased out by 2030. This presented a huge movement towards electric and fully autonomous vehicles with little provision for them on a huge scale at that time. In terms of roads we, as engineers, needed to come up with infrastructure-driven solutions to charging (not only in the town centres, but more importantly for the long-distance driver). This had the potential to become a huge barrier to economic development. I became aware of how emerging, and rapidly evolving new technologies could make a huge difference in transport management and safety. With continued population growth, demand for further transportation infrastructure would continue to increase. However, I could see that a lack of developable space in densely populated urban areas of the UK would prove to be a barrier to more and more road and rail networks. Of all the innovative ideas I was pondering at the time I am immensely proud that my personal influence has helped make 3 of them become a reality.
Firstly, magnetically engineered wireless vehicle charging. In 2020 a concept that had begun to be researched, but practicality was a long way away, largely due to the cost implication of upgrading the road network. I was instrumental in setting up a campaign group to lobby the government for funding (and the car manufacturers for the in-vehicle technology). The group included several interested parties including mechanical, electrical and civil engineers, along with technology and IT solutions experts, environmental specialists and cost analysts. Initially the idea was developed for stationary vehicles on sections of road at traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, parking spaces etc. but this did not provide a solution for the major motorway network. We needed large scale funding, and thankfully given the global climate change concerns at the time coupled with government environmental policy, they were keen to get behind us for a trial on a UK road… by 2025 we were up and running with a single charging lane on a stretch of UK – I was delighted that the same stretch of road I had travelled to university on, was chosen for the trial (the A1). It was a resounding success and by 2030 we had secured funding to roll out across major routes in the UK. Throughout the 30’s and 40’s we continued to develop this in conjunction with the safety of fully autonomous vehicles using autonomous satellite navigation, along with traffic and incident detection. Fast forward to today and the rest is history.
Secondly, electric monorail systems connecting cities to outlying commuter areas. Having visited Dubai, I had seen how an off-ground, solar powered monorail system had an abundance of benefits: reducing motor usage, traffic congestion, travel times, environmental impact, and air pollution (improving health) whilst being quick and cost effective to construct compared to traditional Victorian tunnelling systems such as the London Underground. It was impossible to create this model in overpopulated UK cities. We did however manage to develop a cost-effective trial system in the new city of Futuretown in 2040, a cutting-edge project which led me to work around the globe advising and leading the development groups of similar schemes: Ulrail in the new city of Ulwin near Sydney, Australia and Dabsmetro in Abu Dhabi, UAE. With mobile technology and smart algorithms developing apace at that time, on-demand public transport in highly populated cities also became a reality and continue today led largely by our forward-thinking multidisciplinary teamwork approach.
Thirdly, I was keen to develop a holistic approach to transport. Transport planning could not focus entirely upon electric vehicles and public transport…. the COVID 19 pandemic cemented this further; we needed to develop the use of personal micro-transport alongside them – modes to solve the ‘first/last mile’ problem. The 2010s saw the invention of e-micromobility but it would take another decade before I convinced the UK government to catch up with the rest of the world and legalise this innovation. This was only possible through my proposal of safe, new street layout regulations for cities. With smaller vehicles prioritised, larger HGVs restricted to certain zones and times, and a network of segregated car and light-transport lanes implemented in the saved space. It became the real win for urban areas in terms of cost effectiveness, impact on the environment and speed of short journeys by providing flexible, practical alternatives to traditional transport methods, whilst opening up the High-street. This was complimented by the implementation of secure, city-wide micro-vehicle wireless charging sites and led to the 21st century’s most significant shift in urban transport behaviour to date. The infrastructure already supported the subsequent introduction of above ground personal hoverboards powered through electromagnetic induction.
I’ve given only three examples out of a host of projects I am passionate about. I believe and hope you agree that as I retire today, I have left a legacy of our time that I am incredibly proud of. I also leave my latest project in your capable hands to take forward: a trial study to develop the life-changing idea of solar powered passenger drones, particularly the safety aspect. How fantastic!
I want to acknowledge all the wonderful colleagues I’ve worked with over the years both within the business and those who have worked alongside me from other disciplines. You have all given me immense support. I couldn’t have achieved any of this without you! There is no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM’.
Thank you for sharing this celebratory event with me along with the constant support and friendship. I believe that this great company will continue to grow and prosper, and I trust that each one of you will be happy and fulfilled here. Keep up the good work; you’ve been a wonderful team to collaborate with.