UK drops to 7th in Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index

A new report by KPMG shows the UK has dropped two places, to seventh, in its Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index.

While this could be interpreted as a blow to the UK government’s commitment to be at the forefront of driverless technology, KPMG was at pains to emphasize that this was “only due to high-performers Norway and Finland joining the index”.

Countries were assessed on 25 different measures across four pillars – policy & legislation, technology & innovation, infrastructure, and consumer acceptance.

KPMG 2019 Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index image
KPMG 2019 Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index image

As last year, The Netherlands ranked #1, praised for its efforts to run platoons of driverless trucks on major ‘Tulip Corridor’ routes from Amsterdam to Antwerp and Rotterdam to the Ruhr valley. Singapore ranked #2 thanks to its test town for driverless vehicles.

Sarah Owen-Vandersluis, head of public mobility strategy for KPMG in the UK, commented: “The UK has made a lot of inroads with big investments, a committed government and world-leading policy; it has seen many positive announcements regarding both private sector initiatives and local and central government strategies.”

In a separate paper – Mobility 2030: Transforming the mobility landscape – KPMG highlighted three key disruptive forces: 1) Electric vehicles (EVs) and alternative powertrains; 2) Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs); and 3) On-demand mobility services.

Driverless delivery vehicle maker Nuro gets billion-dollar boost

Whenever anyone spends a billion dollars in the self-driving world it is probably worthy of a mention here.

In this case, unmanned delivery vehicle specialist, Nuro, has been boosted by a US$940m investment from Japanese multinational, SoftBank.

Founded in 2016 by two former Google engineers, Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, Nuro operates mainly in San Francisco but plans to expand its delivery service to new areas, add new partners and expand its fleet.

“We’ve spent the last two and a half years building an amazing team, launching our first unmanned service, working with incredible partners and creating technology to fundamentally improve our daily lives,” said Ferguson.

“This partnership gives us the opportunity to take the next step in realizing our vision for local commerce and the broad application of our technology.”

Nuro’s other backers include Greylock Partners and Gaorong Capital.

Must-see video: new driverless cars world record set in China

Guinness World Records has posted this video of what is officially now the largest parade of autonomous cars ever:

55 self-driving cars built by Changan Autmobile set the record at the Dianjiang test site in Chongqing, China, on 28 November 2018.

Design Boom reported that a 56th car was disqualified after the safety driver briefly took back control of the vehicle.

The challenge of London: can driverless cars unblock the world’s sixth most gridlocked city?

Today’s two new statements from the London Assembly – one on the cost of congestion and the other on changes to the licensing guidelines for taxis and minicabs – have highlighted major transport problems in the capital… issues which connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) could potentially help to solve.

Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM, chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee, said: “The revelation that London is the sixth most gridlocked city in the world, behind Moscow, Istanbul, Bogota and Mexico City, will come as no surprise to most road users.

“This is a shockingly expensive fact and hugely damaging to our global reputation. Getting millions of Londoners to and from work every day is a massive challenge – but we really have to try harder for the sake of our economy and our environment.

“The need to improve London’s public transport capacity is desperate – hence the urgent necessity for Crossrail and for more people to walk and cycle whenever possible.” 

Notably, the Transport Committee’s 65-page 2017 report London Stalling described the current Congestion Charge as “no longer fit for purpose” and recommended that “the Mayor should make plans now to introduce road pricing.”

Transport data firm Inrix has since calculated that the average road user in London lost up to £1,680 last year due to traffic jams.

There’s little doubt that smart highways and connected cars could help to ease congestion, or that electric vehicles would cut the damage from tailpipe emissions.

Admittedly, Adam Millard-Ball’s concern that self-driving cars could exacerbate the problem by cruising to get around paying for parking (as outlined in A dystopian vision of polluted London) would need to be tackled.

As to the government’s proposed new licensing guidelines for taxis and minicabs – which would require cabbies to pass enhanced criminal record checks – Pidgeon said: “Anything that improves the safety of passengers has to be a good thing.

“We need to prevent the likes of John Worboys from being able to operate as a legitimate licensed driver again and stop the worrying numbers of sexual assaults in minicabs.

“The big miss in the government response to the Department for Transport (DfT) Review is the statutory definition of plying for hire not being resolved. This has long been a major bone of contention and it appears to be too hard to resolve, so they aren’t going to try.”

Under existing regulations, private hire vehicles (PHVs) may only pick up passengers when pre-booked, rather than from a rank or being hailed.

However, the RMT, the union for transport workers, asserts that: “ smartphone apps such as Uber are circumventing the law governing the taxi and minicab industry”.

If the authorities haven’t even got their heads around smartphones yet, they’ve certainly got a lot of thinking to do when it comes to driverless cars, not least the thorny issue of who to save in no-win crash situations.

CASE study: connected, autonomous, something and electric

The motor industry is notoriously fond of an acronym and here’s a new one which might just catch on: CASE.

In this case, C stands for connected, A for autonomous and E for electric, but there’s disagreement about what the S should stand for.

Vehicle manufacturer Daimler goes for connected, autonomous, shared and electric, although if you dig a bit deeper into their website they keep their options open with “shared and services”.

“Each of these has the power to turn our entire industry upside down,” said Dr Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the board of Daimler AG. “But the true revolution is in combining them in a comprehensive, seamless package.”

Over at car parts maker ZF, Andy Whydell, vice president of systems product planning for active and passive safety, goes for connected, autonomous, safe and electric.

For explanations of other vehicle-related terms and acronyms, see our Cars of the Future glossary.

Must-see video: why is Ford disguising drivers as car seats?

Ford Europe has posted a new video highlighting an innovative approach to autonomous vehicle testing:

Drivers frequently use hand gestures (!), head nods and eye contact to communicate with other road users. For example, to establish that a pedestrian is crossing, that a cyclist has seen them or that they’re letting another car go first.

But how will self-driving vehicles achieve a similar degree of interaction? One idea is to use flashing lights of different colours.

To test the theory without spending a fortune on autonomous tech, Ford created the “Human Car Seat” – camouflaging a driver so the vehicle, at first glance at least, looks driverless.

This homespun method allows observers to more effectively gauge real-world responses.

According to Automotive World, 60% of people surveyed thought the Transit Connect was an autonomous vehicle and turquoise emerged as the preferred light colour.

Ford, in partnership with electronics specialist Hella, is now conducting further tests, including positioning the lights on the grille and headlamps.

Not anytime soon? Driverless cars are already here

There’s a story doing the rounds this week that autonomous cars “aren’t coming anytime soon”.

Well, here in the UK the government is planning public road trials without safety drivers.

In the US, Waymo already has 10 million self-driving miles on public roads under its belt.

Serious issues like who to save in no-win crash situations and reasons to fear driverless: personal data remain, but the autonomous vehicle revolution has started.

Must-see video: VR world enables billions of driverless test miles

Having made its name in gaming graphics, it should come as no surprise that Nvidia has created an autonomous vehicle (AV) simulator – a computer platform which enables developers to design a near-infinite variety of conditions and scenarios for driverless cars.

The US tech giant (which already has links with manufacturers including Audi, Mercedes, Tesla, Toyota, Volvo and VW) says its new Drive Constellation will help the global automotive industry to drive billions of test miles safely in virtual reality.

In another notable move, Nvidia recently announced a joint initiative with the government of Luxembourg to create a national artificial intelligence (AI) laboratory.

“Luxembourg is nurturing a pan-European innovation ecosystem,” said Prime Minister Xavier Bettel. “This cooperation is big news for our local innovators, and our country is proud to be the first European country to create an AI partnership with Nvidia.”

UK plans ‘advanced’ driverless car road trials… meaning no safety driver

Driverless cars are a hot topic in the UK today (6 February 2019) thanks to a Government announcement on “advanced trials for self-driving vehicles”.

Stories ran in most of the biggest-selling newspapers focusing on the removal of the requirement for a safety driver. Actually, all the Department for Transport (DfT) committed itself to was to develop a process to help support advanced trials of automated vehicles.

Automotive Minister, Richard Harrington, said: “We need to ensure we take the public with us as we move towards having self-driving cars on our roads by 2021. The update to the code of practice will provide clearer guidance to those looking to carry out trials on public roads.”

The door to the removal of safety drivers is opened in point 1.4 of the introduction, on page 5 of the newly updated Code of Practice: Automated vehicle trialling (pictured).

It states that: “The Government acknowledges the desire to conduct advanced trials on public roads. Such trials may not readily fit within current UK legislation, so the Department for Transport’s motoring agencies will introduce and operate a process to support those looking to safely conduct advanced trials.”

The DfT emphasised that the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) must be informed in advance and trials would not be supported unless they pass rigorous safety assessments.

So, what have we learnt? That “advanced trials” in this context is broadly a euphemism for road tests without a safety driver, and that the timetable for implementation is ambitious: “for self-driving cars on our roads by 2021”.

With the lack of clarity around The driverless dilemma: who to save in no-win crash situations and a plethora of other unresolved issues, there is much to debate.

The fact is today’s announcement brings us closer to having driverless cars on UK roads.

Cars of the past: Sinclair C5 race in Margate

Presenters from Absolute Radio – Andy Bush, Richie Firth, Dave Berry and Matt Dyson – lined-up for The Great British Sinclair C5 Seafront Race in Margate on Tuesday 5 February.

The Isle of Thanet News reported that the legendary 1980s three wheelers were supplied by C5 Alive, a local enthusiasts’ club run by Eddie Green and Neil Brooks, who have restored more than 30 C5s to full working order.

The C5 is a single-seater battery-assisted pedal cycle with a top speed of 20mph, described by inventor Sir Clive Sinclair as “a vehicle, not a car”.

Of 14,000 made, only 5,000 were sold before Sinclair Vehicles went into receivership. The planned follow-ups, the C10 and C15, never made it off the drawing board.