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Exeter tech start-up runs UK’s largest planning AI hackathon at British Library

By December 11, 2019January 26th, 2021Member News & Updates

A new tech company from Exeter is running the UK’s largest artificial intelligence hackathon into planning processes.

The week-long event (Dec 9-13), at the British Library in London, is part of a local government project being led by Agile Datum, based at Exeter Science Park.

The company, founded this year, uses artificial intelligence techniques and chatbots to help councils automate administrative tasks, speed up service delivery and improve citizen engagement.

Set up by tech entrepreneur Anthony Peake, Agile Datum has been awarded Government funding from Innovate UK to develop its Artificial Intelligence Validation Platform. It’s part of a two-year research programme with the University of Exeter and The Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence.

The hackathon will involve computer science academics and students from eight universities, including Exeter, The Alan Turing Institute and Agile Datum, using artificial intelligence techniques to investigate publically-available data within planning applications, and find ways to radically reduce typical waiting and turnaround times. Some 40 councils are signed up to receive the findings.

Agile Datum founder Anthony Peake said: “Artificial intelligence has the potential to transform many areas of local government and planning is undoubtedly one of them. Councils are overloaded, with backlogs of applications at a time when national house-building targets are being missed.

“Our partnership with the University of Exeter, supported by Innovate UK, is allowing us to rapidly develop and test potentially transformational techniques and is already leading to some very positive results with councils involved in the pilot project.”

The company, which is looking for six developers and data scientists to join the team at Exeter, was one of 20 shortlisted by SetSquared to pitch to investors and government agencies at London’s 2019 Investor Showcase earlier this month.

Other councils are now invited to join the Innovate UK funded research programme with the University of Exeter.

Agile Datum have developed an AI enabled chatbot, trained to answer over 200 planning related questions. Now, with funding from Innovate UK and through the work with the Alan Turing Institute and the hackathon, the focus has broadened to automating the checking and validation of planning applications themselves.

Anthony added: “We’ve used AI techniques to analyse over a million UK planning applications from across 100 councils, and estimate that around 65% of planning-related queries could be managed by self-learning chatbots. It reduces waiting times for enquiries, makes the planning process easier for people to navigate, and frees up crucial resources and officers’ time to focus on more complex applications and planning strategy.”

Agile Datum is set to publish the results of a detailed national survey of councils and their use of artificial intelligence and chatbots in the coming weeks. for more information.