LiFE is for the good of everyone, so it has to happen. You do what you need to get it done, when you know something is right – it’s right full stop.
It is our pleasure to introduce Peter Jones. He is an independent innovator, shy genius, and the visionary of LiFE. As a primary advisor on the LiFE Advisory Board, Peter Jones is working with our LiFE team at Red Ninja Studios, and sharing his vital insight as we work to save lives. We are so grateful that he took a few moments out of his busy schedule to talk to us about the birth of LiFE.
Peter, how did the idea of controlling traffic lights to aid ambulances first come to you?
Well, it’s quite a long story! I would say generally that the idea for LiFE was born out of dramatically evolving technologies and the solution-oriented people I was surrounded by. I have worked in the wider sphere of traffic control for quite some time, so I know the system from within. I started as a bus driver, whilst I was driving buses I noticed that traffic lights seemed to have some kind of intelligence. Wanting to know more, I ended up working in Liverpool’s traffic control centre, using some of the best traffic control systems in the world.
We used to have traffic control systems years ago on what they call, ‘fixed time plans’. If, for example, an ambulance was going from the Wirral to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, they’d ring us in the control room and say, ‘We’ve got an ambulance coming through in half an hour’, and we’d get ready, using a pre-programmed route to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. A guy in the tunnel would have to tell us what speed he was doing on average, for spinal injuries it might be 15mph, for a heart attack it might be 60mph, giving us both the programmed route and the speed. As soon as the ambulance emerged from the tunnel, they’d tell us and we’d hit a button. Generally, we could keep up with the route because we had programmed it, but you can’t do that for every destination from wherever a paramedic may happen to be.
Then systems started moving to real time traffic control, where they measured the traffic on the road, and if you program them properly it can reduce congestion massively in the city.
Previously, we connected to the traffic lights via modems, which are incredibly old fashioned things. Now we have routers, which means there is a huge capacity there for data, and we’re only using an incredibly tiny amount.
You mentioned solution-oriented people, what do you mean by that?
Usually innovative solutions or solutions which disrupt a conservative way of doing things are quite hard to promote, and LiFE was no different. When you tell somebody about an idea you’ve had, the first ten people are what I call “five second experts”, they are pretty sure your idea will not work without giving it further thought. But one human being can’t stop that, because nobody in this world is more important than anybody else. LiFE is about saving people’s lives, so it has to happen.
Around the same time, Lee Omar (Founder and CEO of Red Ninja) happened to come to the traffic lights control centre.
I didn’t know Lee Omar at that time, he invited me to a think tank around Internet of Things for Future Cities.
We got together from the traffic control centre. I told him about the idea of managing and controlling traffic lights for ambulances, and he’s just run away with this idea as he really wants to see it working.
Lee’s attitude was brilliant, there was no “you can’t do that”, or, “what about so and so”. He knew instantly that it could be done. I love people like that. I gravitate towards them. When two creative thinkers meet great things happen.
How have you found working with Red Ninja?
I remember the first time I saw the Red Ninja Studio. The people working there, they’re not just geeks, they’re real people. Not only understand the software, and I mean really understand it, they have this perception that everything is possible and they will find a way to do it. It’s like the energy you feel when you’re out in the woods somewhere, it’s the same in their office, you just feel it, the expansiveness of possibilities. They don’t come with these pre-conceptions, they come with this attitude that it can be done, and that’s how things happen.
What role does LiFE play in helping ambulances?
When an ambulance goes live it could be anywhere in the city. Immediately the Ambulance Service’s GPS system knows where it is and we can determine where it’s going. The role LiFE plays it will calculate which corridors the ambulance will travel along and turns those lights green before the ambulance arrives. This will create a clear path for any buildup of existing traffic to move through, providing a clearer route for the ambulance to move through. This is achieved through a complex algorithm which Red Ninja’s LiFE team are developing in conjunction with previous GPS route data from actually routes ambulances have taken.
How have ambulances been involved in the LiFE project so far?
We had to find out how often ambulances track their vehicles. I knew they tracked them but I didn’t know how good or bad it was. Fortunately it turned out they knew roughly every five seconds where their vehicle is. Incredible! I was hoping for one minute but five seconds is brilliant. This means we can adapt to any change within five seconds to make sure the ambulance always has a clear path along these corridors, getting paramedics to the scene as quickly as possible, with the potential to save lives.
Do you think LiFE has the potential to help ambulances in other cities, other countries?
I think LiFE can be rolled out anywhere, it can be built to adapt to the traffic systems of various cities. It’s a fantastic project. It will work, and it will work to impact lives.