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New rail apps aim to keep London Midland passengers on track

Rail operator working with Birmingham tech companies to develop innovations and ideas which are set to improve passengers' journeys

Labs by London Midland hub at iCentrum in Birmingham
Labs by London Midland hub at iCentrum in Birmingham

An app that sends train station announcements through passengers' headphones is one of many new ideas being backed by rail operator London Midland.

Budding Midland tech companies in a city incubation programme have got on board with the rail operator as they develop a range of new technologies to ease journeys.

The Birmingham-based transport firm has procured inventions from the start-ups with the aim of introducing some of them to passengers.

Among them is Braci, which is capable of detecting sounds on board a train such as station announcements and passenger information.

If a traveller has the app on their phones and is listening to music, Braci will interrupt it so they can hear important travel updates.

It mirrors technology which has been used on car radios for years which interrupts music when a travel update is broadcast.

The 'Labs by London Midland' programme is a 12-week initiative being run out of the iCentrum hub at Innovation Birmingham where ten tech companies are undergoing mentoring to develop their work in the first of three planned cohorts.

Several ideas have now been procured by London Midland for further development:

* Popwork is an app bringing together a network of 'pop-up pods' to act as meeting rooms

* TransReport is an app which allows users to report faults to travel companies in real-time and stay informed about progress to fix the fault. It uses so-called 'beacon technology' which pinpoints exactly where a passenger is so engineers and maintenance staff know immediately where a fault lies

* Limitless Travel is a Birmingham-based company which provides bespoke holidays for people with disabilities and is now working with TransReport to help them on London Midland services. Using this technology, disabled travellers will be able to tell the operator of any issues in advance such as needing a ramp to alight a train at a certain station

* Kompas is an app designed to help people explore places they are visiting and offer ideas for places to go and things to see by providing tailored information. The technology is already being used in London and Berlin and London Midland is working on launching it in Birmingham. It is also getting Kompas involved in the Velo Birmingham 100-mile bike ride in September and Big Sleuth fundraiser for the children's hospital, both of which are being sponsored by the rail operator

* Touchbyte is an anonymous customer footfall and analytics device which uses facial recognition and can help with security issues such as spotting known offenders on CCTV.

Ian McLaren, London Midland's finance and contracts director, said the operator was initially planning to run three cohorts but now expected to continue the programme in the future.

"It would be very easy for us to do this just as a one off," he told the Post.

"But it has created a huge amount of excitement in the business and we've set up an environment where people can make mistakes and learn from them.

"These ten companies are finding it really useful and our staff have benefited too as they are meeting bright people and discussing how these ideas can be adapted into the day-to-day process of running services."

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