Spotlight Series: Interview with Yang Lu, CTO and Co-founder of Vivacity Labs

01 Jun 2020

Spotlight Series - Yang Lu

Who are you?

I am Yang Lu, CTO and co-founder of Vivacity Labs. We are working to revolutionise urban mobility by bringing cutting-edge AI to road infrastructure. At Vivacity Labs, we are combining our AI powered sensor and optimisation technologies to enable traffic lights to respond to an ever-changing road environment and for all types of road-user.

What inspired you to create with Vivacity Labs?

The founders of Vivacity Labs met while we were working on a student project to build a solar powered racing car. Following this experience, we were interested in starting a company in the mobility and transport space. It was clear to us that despite great technical innovations around electric and autonomous vehicles, the transport infrastructure that underpins our roads was still built on technology from the 1980's. We started Vivacity Labs with a vision to bring the AI revolution to transport infrastructure.

How does it work?

At Vivacity Labs we have developed AI software to interpret video from a camera device, allowing the software to identify and recognise objects much like a human would. Combining this with our custom camera platform with an embedded AI processor, we can deploy a low-cost sensor mounted on lamp posts or traffic lights. These sensors are able to continuously provide real-time insights into the movement patterns of all road users within its view. We also care strongly about data privacy, so all video footage is discarded as soon as it is processed by our AI, leaving only the useful anonymous data of how pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles are using the road-space.

Using our city-wide real-time traffic data, Vivacity labs has also developed traffic optimisation AI. We predict how traffic will develop hours into the future, which allows us to better optimise the coordination of traffic throughout the city. This system can also be configured to optimise for different factors, such as improving journeys for cyclists and pedestrians or reducing air pollution by discouraging pollution generating behaviour.

What would you say are the best things about working at Vivacity Labs?

The pace of innovation and technology development at Vivacity Labs is extremely rewarding. I work with a team of phenomenally talented people and it is very satisfying to see our concepts and solutions having a positive impact in the real world. For example, since early March we have been using our network of over 1000 sensors to produce detailed traffic flow analysis across the UK for the government as part of monitoring the Covid-19 response. We are also able to measure the distance between pedestrians on pavements, so we rapidly developed this concept into a metric of social distancing adherence. We are providing this data to government to help build up an understanding of how the response to lockdown is changing over time. Through conversations with The Department for Transport and other government departments, we know our data is highly valued and is helping to inform ongoing government decision making.

What is the hardest thing about working at Vivacity Labs?

One of our biggest challenges is operating as a startup selling new technology to local authorities and government. It has taken a long time for us to build up the trust and reputation to give authorities the confidence that we can deliver on our claims and provide them with a valuable service.

What’s the biggest thing your company has achieved so far?

Our biggest achievement is to have started controlling traffic in the real-world. Through our partnership with Transport for Greater Manchester, we are expanding our system over the next year to control traffic across 25% of the central Manchester area.

What does the future hold?

We are looking forward to demonstrating and maturing our traffic control technology in a variety of cities around the UK. At the same time, we are building up partnerships and collaborations internationally to start deploying our technology overseas. We aim to establish ourselves as a global leader in traffic optimisation and help the UK develop into a centre of excellence for AI and Intelligent Mobility.

What advice you would give to future entrepreneurs?

If you want to create a startup, building the team is just as important as building the idea. Make sure to have a diverse range of skills and experience in the people working around you.

What impact has the Enterprise Fellowships Programme had on your business?

Through the Enterprise Fellowship Programme, I have been able to access valuable courses and advice to help improve the skills needed to run a business, learning from industry experts and other entrepreneurs. The Enterprise Hub has connected us with investors and helped to generate brand awareness of Vivacity Labs.

What advice would you give to potential applicants?

The Enterprise Fellowship programme is a fantastic opportunity, providing valuable help to an early stage business with no strings attached. Make sure your idea is clear and simple to understand. Be able to explain what problem you are trying to solve and why that problem needs solving.

And finally, if you received an infinite sum of cash, what’s the first thing you would do for your business?

Buy an amazing coffee machine with unlimited free coffee for all our developers!

Quick fire questions

What is your secret talent? Accurately guessing exactly what time it is.

What’s your guilty pleasure? Playing Age of Empires II

I don’t understand why… people like Tiktok

When I’m not working at Vivacity Labs, I enjoy… Cycling my road bike and cooking nice food (in that order!)

What makes you happiest in business? Seeing my ideas come into fruition.

Do you have any business regrets? Not really – I tend to focus on what’s possible rather than what wasn’t.

If I could have a superpower, it would be… the ability to fly

The tech that I could not live without is… my Desktop PC

Ever told a white lie to get what you wanted in business? No comment!

Which fellow Hub Member are you most impressed by? Henrik Hagemann – Puraffinity is an impressive company with a great technology and vision.

If you had to choose another sector to work in, what would it be? Aviation – because I’ve always wanted to get a pilot’s license

And finally, if you could invent a new piece of tech, what would it be and what problem would it solve? Clothes that fold themselves.

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