Atkins sets out on the path to be a digital pioneer

Emma Greedy

Emma Greedy reports from the Atkins’ new London headquarters near Victoria Station, where the global consultancy’s new president, Philip Hoare, said it is looking to ‘jump off the curve’ and make a difference with its technology.

At a recent event, Atkins delved into how its technology is transforming UK infrastructure. Visitors were treated to a virtual reality experience, as well as the opportunity to simulate driving a surveillance drone.

Mr Hoare, new into the role of president, told the assembled press: ‘We’re not just going digital for digital’s sake. The endgame is all about making sure that we’re delivering things that our clients need, it’s about building the infrastructure that really matters.’

‘When we first started in engineering it was all about concrete and steel, but now it’s all about data,’ he said, before adding that he wants Atkins to be a pioneer in defining what the digital future will be.

To realise this ambition, Atkins is investing in and innovating with artificial intelligence, drones, Internet of Things technology, 3D design, modular construction, intelligent mobility and digital asset management.

One highlight was Atkins’ go-pro road defect detection technology, which is now ‘commercially ready’. Atkins teams in the UK and India developed a pilot using a Convolutional Neural Network – a type of AI – to speed up the process of detecting and categorising road surface defects.

Recorded footage is sent to a road maintenance team, who then have real-time images of the work that needs to be done.

This proof of concept system can detect road surface defects with least an 85% accuracy level and could be used for building and maintaining other infrastructure assets like railways or buildings, Atkins said.

The firm is currently developing a platform called THEIA to speed up the deployment and implementation of AI focused assets and defect detection and aims to deliver commercial pilots later this year.

Matt Simpson, technical director for cyber resilience, also explained how Atkins has a team of 35 cyber security professionals who work to ensure that online infrastructures are un-hackable.

‘Connection to the internet puts infrastructure at risk,’ said Mr Simpson. ‘Which is why we have to work harder to ensure that systems are secure and safe to use.’

Atkins' digital in practice


Atkins is a member of the AutoAir consortium undertaking trials of 5G technologies for communications between vehicles and infrastructure. Other members of the consortium include Telefonica, McLaren Applied Technologies, The University of Surrey, Real Wireless, BluWireless, Dense Air, AirSpan and Quortus.

Funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the AutoAir trial aims to evaluate 5G for use in transportation and automotive scenarios, and is the first trial to use a ‘neutral host’ network platform. The trials are based at the Millbrook Proving Ground – a dedicated road test facility that includes a hyper-dense 5G network. Atkins is developing use cases for testing on the trial network.

Connected and Autonomous Vehicles

As part of numerous consortiums, including FLOURISH and VENTURER, Atkins has conducted research exploring how we need to prepare the technology, the road network and the public for the introduction of CAVs. Atkins has also developed an Incident Response Framework to mitigate the impact of cyber incidents on the road networks’ wireless communications.


Flo is a new digital, cloud and iPad-based solution designed to reduce damage assessment time by up to 90%. Using state of the art 3D-scanning technology integrated into iPads, Flo enables users to quickly record damage and share the information globally, resulting in a real-time assessment. Human-Centred Design Toolkit

Our Human Centred Design toolkit provides design teams with the tools to form an in-depth understanding of end user groups and test numerous options before detailed design. Fully developed in-house, the tool compiles multiple environmental and spatial parametric analyses to form a highly detailed dataset for the design process. Using this data, the platform creates an interactive 3D environment, allowing multiple design options to be explored at a very early stage in the design process.


Atkins has recently developed the Rapid Assessment and Planning for Infrastructure Design (RAPID) tool. RAPID is a collaborative, tailorable, web-based design and decision support tool that lets you plan, assess, review, decide, construct and operate temporary infrastructure in both 2D and 3D virtual reality (VR). The use of RAPID can optimise cost, time, the use of resources, real estate, environmental impact, safety and security.

Initially designed within a military context, RAPID could be applied to the design of multiple sites, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief events, and compounds for major highways, railways and power station construction projects.


Delivering capital infrastructure upgrades in London is expensive for utilities. Roads get dug up once then dug up again by a different team. Atkins, with our innovation partners Fluxx, developed ThamesConnect to be the seed to start conversations around collaborative infrastructure works. The approach unlocks siloed data and gives greater transparency and visibility to those making investment decisions.

This approach could be used by any local authority or utility. A current scheme in London is expected to have a reduced reduction to residents of 98 days, thanks to this collaborative approach.

Human-Centred Design Toolkit

Our Human Centred Design toolkit provides design teams with the tools to form an in-depth understanding of end user groups and test numerous options before detailed design. This ensures a greater level of certainty can be baked into the decision-making process and that a building meets the performance and wellbeing needs of its inhabitants.

Fully developed in-house, the tool compiles multiple environmental and spatial parametric analyses to form a highly detailed dataset for the design process. Using this data, the platform creates an interactive 3D environment, allowing multiple design options to be explored at a very early stage in the design process.


Across the sectors in which we operate, our clients face common challenges; high hazard industries, skills shortages and a drive to improve efficiency and productivity while reducing risks to people and the environment.

With the emergence of Collaborative Robots (Cobots) over the last decade we are now seeing new opportunities to augment humans with robotic tools that they can work alongside. With a modular configuration, ease of control and proven safety in collaborative applications, integrating this technology into our concept design and operations has the potential to transform the way we work.

Virtual Reality

Immersive technology can enhance engineering design, delivery and operations by providing spatial context to data and assets. Atkins has developed an advanced visualisation and multi-user collaboration platform, where we can create captivating immersive experiences on any device, from mobile phones to the HTC Vive and Microsoft Hololen, and allow clients, the public and on-site personnel to collaboratively explore and interact with our detailed engineering models.

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