Interview with Professor Phil Blythe

Phil Blythe is Professor of Intelligent Transport Systems, Fellow of Royal Academy of Engineering, and heads up the Research Hub for Decarbonised Adaptable and Resilient Transport Infrastructures (DARe).  As Principal Investigator on the newly-awarded national research hub, Phil will have the challenge of  working out how to upgrade and de-carbonise the UK’s national, regional and local transport infrastructure.

Professor Phil Blythe had originally intended to study chemistry alongside physics and maths at A’ level, but in the end he chose government and politics instead. The decision proved an advantage when he began raising funds and running projects aimed at developing the future of UK transport

Phil’s insight into the need to balance technological research with practical applications and social need led to a chair at Newcastle University, and ultimately a six-year stint as Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Transport, even though, to his regret, he never finished his PhD.

Phil’s career spans the history of IT in transport, from the beginnings of vehicle and roadside communications in tolling and road pricing in the 1980s, to today’s research into autonomous vehicles, de-carbonising transport and applications for quantum computing and blockchain technology. His work addresses challenges, such as public acceptance of driverless buses, deploying AI and machine learning in air traffic control systems for urban drones, and how and where to use hydrogen power.

During the past 25 years, Phil  has won more than £40m for research projects from sources such as the Research Councils, Government Departments, the EU, industry and NGOs. 

Phil is a strong advocate for engineering, which he says allows the potential of IT to be applied in practical applications. “Engineers are trained to solve problems and think logically,” he says. Transport is a good example. “Without transport there wouldn’t be society or an economy but it’s going to have to change. IT provides the opportunity to make a real difference.”

Phil Blythe was interviewed by Jane Bird for Archives of IT.