SA’s first Free Innovation movement aims to solve Stellenbosch traffic congestion

As South Africa celebrated National Transport Month throughout October, a community of innovators, technologists and free thinkers came together to help solve one of Stellenbosch – and South Africa’s – most pervasive problems: traffic congestion.

Free Innovation is a community of innovators based in Stellenbosch consisting of designers, developers, technologists, engineers and free thinkers with the aim of developing innovative solutions to important issues in a culture of open and free collaboration. According to Free Innovation founder and Polymorph CEO Richard Barry, innovation is often stifled by bureaucratic issues.

“Free Innovation is a collaborative community that aims to establish a culture of open innovation. The core premise is around bringing people together that have an abundance of tools, knowledge, time, or any other resource, and creating opportunities for them to share this with others within the community. Since there’s no cost to sharing resources, the community can get working on innovation to solve real problems – without the risk normally associated with bureaucracy.”

The first workshop held at the start of October brought together 55 designers, developers, engineers and free thinkers who attempted to find innovative solutions to Stellenbosch’s often crippling traffic congestion. Some of the interventions that were discussed include:

  • Adapting infrastructure to be ‘smart’ by using Internet of Things (IoT) technology to generate real-time traffic data that analysts and planners can use to optimise traffic light cycles;
  • Using in-car technology and IoT infrastructure to improve timing of cars’ acceleration to ensure optimum following distance;
  • Implementing adaptive tolling on major freeways that charges an inflated price during peak traffic hours, incentivising road users to commute during quieter periods;
  • Incentivising road users to make use of ridesharing, public transport and alternative transport (such as bicycles) to ease congestion;
  • Equipping people with more accurate, real-time traffic data to enable them to seek the most efficient alternative route to their workplace;
  • Forcing a culture change among companies to make them more flexible in terms of working hours, and for those companies to equip employees with modern technology to enable them to work remotely as is the custom in many developed city economies around the world;
  • Staggering school starting times so all parents don’t flood the roads between 7:30am and 8:00am; and
  • Creating work hubs at schools to allow parents to work remotely until traffic congestion eases.

These interventions have been recorded on an online platform that is open and accessible to all. “In the case of some of the more technology-driven solutions, our members are also developing prototypes that could in future be presented to key stakeholders within the public sector. It is important to us as a community that the innovations we develop are freely available to those with the power to implement them. We look forward to working with other stakeholders to find solutions to some of the key issues affecting our city and our country.”

There is no membership fee to joining the Free Innovation movement, although members are required to contribute something they have in abundance, whether time, knowledge, tools or space. Sign up and attend one of their regular meetings by joining the Innovation Spaces network on MeetUp.

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