Gordon McCullough, CEO of the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers, talks self-driving.

Huge trust issue: Why self-driving must keep its accessibility promise

With improved accessibility consistently quoted as a key benefit of self-driving, it was shocking to hear Gordon McCullough, CEO of the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (RiDC), warn Zenzic CAM Innovators 2024 of rising disillusionment.

So, in the spirit of Prof Paul Newman’s challenge to “ask difficult questions”, we invited McCullough to expand on his assertion that the disabled community feel excluded when new technologies, like connected and automated vehicles, are introduced.

Gordon McCullough, CEO of the RiDC, talks self-driving
Gordon McCullough, CEO of the RiDC, talks self-driving

What do you see as the likely impacts of self-driving for disabled people?

“Self-driving can clearly be a transformative technology for a lot of disabled people, particularly those who find public transport inaccessible or cannot drive. In a world where you are unable to drive, whether that’s due to a vision or dexterity impairment, or a learning disability, the first and last mile is a huge issue. An on-demand self-driving service, taking you from your door to wherever you need to go – a transport hub, hospital or shopping centre – could be a gamechanger, theoretically a wonderful step forward.

“The problem is nobody’s really talking about how to design these things to make them accessible, and nobody’s really talking to disabled people about their concerns. We’re actively working to address that now – doing research with TRL into disabled peoples’ attitudes to connected and autonomous vehicles, and doing webinars and panels with Zenzic to engage more with the self-driving industry.”

Can you give some examples of the transport challenges that need solving?

“For starters, the Motability Foundation found that disabled people are 38% less likely to use UK public transport than non-disabled people. That’s a damning statistic and it hasn’t changed in over a decade. The fact is our public transport services have structural, financial and attitudinal issues which act as barriers to disabled people.

“There are approximately two million people registered blind or partially sighted people in the UK. Street environments alone present enough challenges for them, things like travelling on the tube can be fraught with difficulties – from annoyances like people petting their guide dogs, to the lack of audio feedback on contactless payment terminals, to anxieties like ‘what if something goes wrong?’

“As we’ve seen with charging points for electric vehicles, the anxieties are multiplied for disabled people. To try and understand the pain points, and then to use design to build trust and acceptance, that’s still a fanciful concept for a lot of people. It should be considered best practice.”

Is human-to-human customer service essential to building trust in self-driving?

“Regardless of whether you’re disabled or not, there will initially be a degree of anxiety about travelling in a driverless vehicle, even if there’s a member of staff on board. The existence of very responsive support is vital, but we don’t yet know what level of assurance is enough. If there’s a special assistance button – somebody on the end of the line who knows where you are, understands your impairments and can sort the problem quickly, or get somebody out to help you – is that enough?

“How does the provision of such clear customer service affect the business case? Profit margin aside, what about the social case? Time and again we find that when a technology runs away with itself, disabled people almost inevitably get forgotten. Companies then go back and try to put fixes in place, and end up spending a lot more money than they would if they had started by asking: how do we make this accessible for everyone, not just 80% of the population?”

Have your say on self-driving by joining The RiDC Panel
Have your say on self-driving by joining The RiDC Panel

Any disabled readers interested in joining The RiDC Panel, the charity’s 4,000-strong research group, please visit ridc.org.uk

rFpro joins ASAM to set standards for simulation-based self-driving testing

Self-driving standards: rFpro joins ASAM

In late March, rFpro announced that it had joined the prestigious Association for Standardization of Automation and Measuring Systems (ASAM).

Working with OEMs, Tier 1 suppliers, research institutes and engineering service providers, the Germany-based non-profit has a mission to establish common standards for the development and testing of all automotive systems.

Of particular interest to self-driving is the OpenMATERIAL project. Initiated by BMW, it aims to create a complete set of standards for the simulation-based testing of automated driving functions. 

Peter Daley, Managing Director of rFpro, said: “Defining material properties is a key strength for rFpro so we are keen to be involved in OpenMATERIAL to help direct and progress this standard.

“Material definitions have been loosely structured to date, so standardising this would bring huge benefits, particularly for the development of virtual sensor models.”

ASAM CEO Marius Dupuis added: “We are pleased to accept rFpro as a member and welcome their active participation in the OpenMATERIAL project.”

For more on rFpro please see our recent feature: CCAV turn to F1’s rFpro for super realistic self-driving simulation software

Cars of the Future self-driving event report: Zenzic CAM Innovators 2024

Enormous UK self-driving business opportunity: Zenzic CAM Innovators 2024

A perennial highlight of the self-driving calendar, mid-March means Zenzic Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) Innovators’ Day at the IET in London.

If 2022 celebrated the shared vision of societal benefits, and last year focused on global R&D leadership, CAM Innovators 2024 majored on the self-driving business case.

Keynote speakers

With Minister of State for the Investment Security Unit, Nusrat Ghani MP, as the first keynote speaker, there was an immediate sense that UK self-driving had truly arrived. Not in theory, but in Parliament, in international finance markets, and in providing quality services to the paying public.

In a short welcome speech, self-driving industry legend Prof. Paul Newman CBE, described the process of gaining National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) approval for the Oxa Driver-powered Beep shuttles in Florida.

He highlighted the extraordinary progress in AI over the last three years, the importance of the AV Bill, and the need to progress beyond R&D to real-world issues like where to deploy.

He then introduced Ghani, who also focused on commercialisation. “Self-driving represents an enormous opportunity,” she said. “The AV Bill provides a comprehensive framework for British firms to lead the world in greener, safer and more reliable transport.”

Self-driving industry legend Prof. Paul Newman and Nusrat Ghani MP at Zenzic CAM Innovators 2024
Self-driving legend Prof. Paul Newman and Nusrat Ghani MP at Zenzic CAM Innovators 2024

Following a ‘fireside chat’ with Ghani covering the necessity to build trust and the role of local authorities, Newman then introduced the second keynote speaker: Sir John Armitt CBE, Chairman of the National Infrastructure Committee (NIC).

Sir John opened with the famous quote by Peter Drucker that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. He explained that the NIC exists to provide the UK government with impartial, expert advice on major long term infrastructure challenges. “The opportunities offered by these technologies are amazing,” he said, “and uncertainty should not be a reason to do nothing.”

Media huddle

Us journos were then whisked off for a ‘media huddle’ with the Minister, Sir John and Newman, at which we were encouraged to ask difficult questions.

Ok. So, how are hard-pressed local authorities expected to fund investment in self-driving services? What is the likely timescale for widespread UK rollout? Has the Cruise incident in America changed the thinking over here?

There was broad agreement that the commercial market doesn’t always work for essential public transport. Without putting a date on it, Newman likened self-driving adoption to water flowing downhill – it will quickly find its way and there will be countless second order effects.

Sir John Armitt CBE at Zenzic CAM Innovators 2024
Sir John Armitt CBE at Zenzic CAM Innovators 2024

Taking a helicopter view, Sir John pointed out that complexities were only to be expected in such technically advanced engineering, and that even Brunel delivered late and over budget!

Unfortunately, these media duties meant we missed the shaping regulation session, notably featuring George Ivanov, Head of International Policy at Waymo. He apparently expressed frustration at the lack of legislative progress in the UK and refused to be drawn on when Waymo might begin operating here.

Self-driving successes

After a short break, Mark Cracknell, Program Director at Zenzic, walked us through “12 months of success”, including the announcement of Cohort 4, the expansion of CAM Testbed UK (now including Catesby Tunnel and Tees Valley), and the launch of PAVE UK.

UK self-driving R&D facilities: CAM Testbed
UK self-driving R&D facilities: CAM Testbed

Alan Walker of Syselek then moderated a panel on developing the CAM supply chain featuring Dr. Martin Dürr of Dromos, Laura O’Neill of Belfast Harbour, Steven Russell of Stagecoach, and Steve Sutcliffe of Nissan – at least two more Self-Driving Industry Award winners there!

Dürr was the first, but not the last, speaker to praise CCAV and Zenzic for their commercial acumen. “We moved to the UK because of their support,” he said. “We are now close to our first deployment, are involved in an exciting project to revitalise old railways using the Dromos system, and are also looking at manufacturing our vehicles here.”

Next up, Agnessa Spanellis, senior lecturer in systems thinking at Edinburgh University, hosted a panel on trust and acceptance with Jonathan Smith of MFM, Ed Houghton of DG Cities, Gordon McCullough of the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (RiDC), and urban designer Helen Ng of Jacobs.

Although improved accessibility is one of the most frequently quoted benefits of self-driving, McCullough reported that the disabled community are already starting to feel excluded. This cannot be ignored and we will bring you more from the RiDC in the coming weeks.

Following a short morning wrap-up by Kate Jack, of Standec, it was lunchtime. Amidst intense networking, the fish and chips was undoubtedly the dish of choice.

Self-driving insurance

Far from a post-lunch lull, the afternoon kicked-off with probably the best panel of the day – on insurance. Charlotte Greenacre, of Thatcham Research, laid the groundwork. For starters, some insurers are now refusing to insure EVs, much of our legislation is “not fit for the modern world”, and that’s before we even get into the different liabilities.

Over to Jonathan Fong, of the Association of British Insurers (ABI), to moderate a panel featuring Matt Daley of rFpro, Chris Jones of Admiral Pioneer, Rebecca Marsden of Oxa, Sam Tiltman of Marsh, and Jamie Wilson of Alexander Dennis.

Self-driving insurance panel at Zenzic CAM Innovators 2024
Self-driving insurance panel at Zenzic CAM Innovators 2024

Wilson outlined the challenges of evaluating risk in the continually changing environment of a bus route, and the considerably more difficult task of doing similar for free-roaming cars.

“Insurance is mission critical in preparation for mass market adoption, and will look very different from personal lines,” said Marsden. Tiltman predicted that self-driving would “terraform” insurance over the next two decades, resulting in less accidents, less deaths and dramatically increased logistical efficiencies.

On the requirement in the AV Bill for data sharing in the event of an accident, Daley raised the enticing prospect of using simulation to literally show exactly what happened.

In the home straight now, Eman Martin-Vignerte, Government Affairs Director at Bosch UK, explained how a partnership with WeRide enabled them to develop a Level 4 car in just 18 months. The three key challenges now, she asserted, are complexity, homologation and scalability.

Self-driving commercialisation

The final panel of the day, “Getting the show on the road”, provided pleasing evidence of multiple viable UK self-driving businesses. Moderated by Amy Marshall of PA Consulting, it featured Miles Garner of Aurrigo, Jim Hutchinson of Fusion Processing, Ben Jardine of eVersum, Louise Lawrence of WSP, and Ian Pulford of Ohmio UK.

Not only a leader in self-driving passenger vehicle manufacturing, Coventry-based Aurrigo is enjoying commercial success in automated baggage handling, notably at the multi-award-winning Changi Airport in Singapore. “We now have paying customers, and we thank Innovate, CCAV and Zenzic for their help in getting us here,” said Garner.

Fusion, of course, provided software to our reigning Self-Driving Vehicle of the Year champion, CAVForth, which has already given tens of thousands of passengers their first taste of self-driving public transport in Scotland. “The next step is taking out the safety driver and moving to commercial success,” said Hutchinson.

Summarising the info-packed day, former Minister of State for Digital and Creative Industries, now executive chair at WMG, Margot James, reflected on the ability of CAM to improve safety and “bring about a more inclusive society”. She emphasised the urgent need to pass the AV Bill to enable UK self-driving to flourish.

We certainly hope that will be in place by this time next year, for CAM Innovators 2025. In the meantime, let’s finish with this intriguing snapshot – traffic on the Embankment as we arrived at the IET for CAM Innovators 2023, when there was a tube strike, and this year. Spot the difference!

Traffic on the Embankment for CAM Innovators 2023 and 2024
Traffic on the Embankment for CAM Innovators 2023 and 2024

For more on accelerating the self-driving revolution, and to apply for CAM Scale-up Cohort 5, visit the Zenzic website.

Cars of the Future self-driving event report: SMMT Connected 2024

Great British self-driving at SMMT Connected 2024

Like a wily international manager giving a tournament debut to a wildly talented prodigy, The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) put self-driving front and centre of its eagerly anticipated Connected 2024 event.

Lined up outside The QEII Centre, in the shadow of Westminster Abbey, were some of the best British self-driving vehicles – a CAVForth bus, an Oxa modified Ford pickup, and an Aurrigo airport Auto-Dolly – and the impressive but not self-driving Ford Mustang Mach-E.

SMMT Connected 2024 self-driving vehicles
SMMT Connected 2024 vehicle line-up

For those in the sector, it was a pinch yourself moment – no longer some side quest from driver assistance, this was high profile backing for true self-driving from one of the UK’s largest trade associations.

Self-driving press briefing

The day (Thursday 14 March) started early, with an 8am press briefing by SMMT Chief Executive, Mike Hawes. He set out why “the UK auto sector is calling for the swift passing of the Automated Vehicles (AV) Bill to deliver long-term economic and social benefits”, notably preventing 53,000 serious accidents by 2040 and delivering a £38bn economic boost… if the Bill is enacted in this parliament.

“Further delay risks leaving Britain in the slow lane, jeopardising our competitiveness,” he warned, highlighting new YouGov research for the SMMT showing that 29% of UK adults would happily use an automated bus, shuttle or taxi service today.

This set the scene for a lively Q&A with David Wong, Senior Technology and Innovation Manager at the SMMT, Oxa’s Autonomy Systems and Regulatory Expert, Bryn Balcombe (formerly of F1 and Roborace), and Prof. David Keene, Chief Executive of Aurrigo.

SMMT Connected 2024 press briefing
SMMT Connected 2024 self-driving press briefing

Wong refenced the launch of PAVE UK and the need to build public trust, while Balcombe (more from him later) urged vehicle manufactures to speed up the adoption of brake- and steer-by-wire in readiness for automation.

Prof. Keene explained that, as well as being a tier one supplier to the likes of JLR and Bentley, and working on self-driving passenger vehicles, Aurrigo is now the world leader in automated baggage handling at airports. Despite the current state of tech stocks globally, he expressed pride in Aurrigo being listed on the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM).

Transport Minister

All this, remember, before the main conference had even begun! Upstairs, in an auditorium packed with 300+ delegates, broadcaster Katie Derham introduced the first keynote speaker, the Rt Hon Mark Harper MP, Secretary of State for Transport.

He enthused about mobility “without the responsibility of driving”, his experience of travelling in a Wayve car in London, and the opportunity for “world leading regulation” to “transform the life chances of the disadvantaged”.

Transport Secretary Harper takes a self-driving ride to announce the AV Bill

Predictably, questions from our broadsheet colleagues then focused on electric cars! Fair points to which Harper provided more than adequate answers.

Dr. Celine Laurent-Winter, Vice President of Connected Vehicle Platforms at BMW Group, then captured the imagination with the promise of an enjoyable journey to the south of France, complete with in-car luxuries, no traffic jams or breakdowns, and the vehicle handling all the cross-channel arrangements. “Premium connectivity is a must to enable this,” she said.

Derham then hosted a fireside chat with Maria Uvarova, SVP of Software Product at Stellantis, and Tom Stringer, Product Strategy Director at JLR. “Statistics tell us that AVs are safer,” said Uvarova, while Stringer insisted that personal ownership would remain the preferred option at the pricier end of the market.

Sunshine at SMMT Connected 2024
Sunshine at SMMT Connected 2024

Self-driving panels

If this is starting to sound more connected than self-driving, fear not. The next panel, moderated by Ben Gardner, of law firm Shoosmiths, and featuring Dr René Hosse, Head of AD System Definition at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, Isobel Pastor, Head of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), and Prof. Keene of Aurrigo, was titled: “Making the quantum leap: overcoming the remaining challenges to a safe and responsible commercial rollout of automated vehicles”.

PAVE UK got another mention, with Gardner saying: “The AV Bill is a fantastic first step and may it sail through parliament.” Hosse reiterated the importance of being utterly transparent about what the technology can and can’t do. In response to a question about the likely timescale, Pastor said: “The target is 2026, in line with what we are hearing from industry, and there will also be more advanced trials.”

The next panel, on Trustworthy AI, was moderated by Cerys Wyn Davies of law firm Pinsent Masons, and featured Sarah Gates of Wayve, Kevin Green of Logistics UK, Rob Rugman of Motability Operations, and Jim Sanders, of the Royal National Institute of Blind people (RNIB).

Highlighting Wayve’s Lingo tool, which enables the software to explain its actions using language, Gates asserted: “The only way to achieve safety is AI”. Green admitted there had not been the highest level of focus on CAM in the CV sector due to other priorities such as clean fuel. Similarly, Rugman was more focused on connectivity because “it is here today.”  

Sanders raised the thorny issue of self-driving public transport negatively impacting blind people by removing the reassurance and assistance of the driver. He made a compelling case that designing for inclusivity was proven to result in significant unforeseen benefits, such as the widespread adoption of voice commands.

MH at SMMT 2024

Admirably keeping the attention before lunch, Robert Smith, of Digital Catapult, drew on his 35 years in AI to argue that it is “a goal rather than a technology”. He used an AI-generated picture of a car with four sideways wheels to expose the limitations.

The first session after lunch, a remote presentation by Maria Cristina Galassi, of the European Commission, was unfortunately hindered by technical issues. But we were soon back up to speed with another heavyweight panel featuring Peter Hafmar, Head of Autonomous Solutions at Scania, Ali Ihsan, of L4 software provider ADASTEC, and George Ivanov, Head of International Policy at Waymo (formerly Google’s Self-Driving Car Project).

Hafmar emphasised the surprising extent of data sharing across the leading companies, while Ivanov pointed to “statistically credible data” from the US showing self-driving to be 85% safer against a human benchmark.

After Johannes Springer, of the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), outlined his organisation’s work in uniting the telecom and auto industries, he joined a panel on “The critical enablers that pave the way for connected and automated mobility.”

Featuring Amelia Armour, of Amadeus Capital Partners, Lee Callaghan, of insurer Aviva, Andrew Hart, of SBD Automotive, and Joe Poynter, of global address system What3words, it covered everything from cybersecurity (we don’t invest as heavily as sectors such as banking), to an initiative in the Netherlands to makes all traffic lights smart (huge benefits for relatively little cost), to accident data reporting (vital to understand what happened and why).

We were in the home straight now, and the pace was picking up. Standing in for Prof. Paul Newman, Bryn Balcombe of Oxa walked us through the key lines in the AV Bill.

He reflected on that fact that it took 19 months to investigate the death of Elaine Herzberg, and used the notorious 2021 Hamilton Verstappen F1 crash at Monza – the one where Lewis said the halo saved him – to explain how UK self-driving crashes would be investigated.

Shadow Minister

Shadow Minister for Transport, Bill Esterson MP, at SMMT Connected 2024
Shadow Minister for Transport, Bill Esterson MP

Finally, with more than half an eye on the next general election, Shadow Minister for Transport, Bill Esterson MP, reiterated that “Labour will support the AV Bill currently going through the Commons“, and reintroduce the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel car sales.

Returning to our opening analogy, this was another momentous day for UK self-driving – the wider automotive industry acknowledging that automated mobility is a gamechanger ready to be carefully introduced. MPs from all sides are supportive and the best regulatory framework in the world is almost in place. Now, let’s get Britain self-driving!

Calling all automated mobility professionals… enter the Self-Driving Industry Awards today!

Are you the best of the best? Entries open for the Self-Driving Industry Awards 2024

Presented by Carsofthefuture.co.uk, entries for the second annual Self-Driving Industry Awards are open now, to once again celebrate excellence in automated mobility, in the UK and internationally.

As widely reported – here and here and here and more – last year’s inaugural event saw companies from four continents attend a glittering ceremony at Margate’s Turner Contemporary gallery, with Stagecoach and Alexander Dennis winning the headline Vehicle of the Year award for Project CAVForth.

Reigning Self-Driving Industry Awards Vehicle of the Year: CAVForth
Reigning Self-Driving Industry Awards Vehicle of the Year: CAVForth

Self-Driving Industry Awards 2024

SDIA 2024 will follow the same peer-led safety-focused format, with entrants in 10 categories – Aftermarket, Design, Hardware, Insurance, Legal, Research, Software, Testing, Trust and V2X – gaining the right to nominate an individual and a vehicle for the top honours.

Carsofthefuture.co.uk Editor, Neil Kennett, said: “The first Self-Driving Industry Awards exceeded all expectations, so the only big change for 2024 is greater emphasis on user experience in the Trust category. This reflects the fact that self-driving is becoming an everyday reality for ever more people.

“From robotaxis in America to the CAVForth buses in Scotland, a growing number of operators are providing an increasingly diverse range of safe and efficient passenger and freight services. These prestigious awards recognise and celebrate the world’s best new automated mobility products, and the incredible people behind them.”

Highlights from the 2023 Self-Driving Industry Awards

The deadline for entries is 5pm UK-time on Friday 20 September, with all shortlisted candidates receiving an invitation to the hottest show in town… the SDIA 2024 awards ceremony.

To enter, please visit the Awards page #SDIA24

SF self-driving car attack – isolated incident or worrying escalation?

Self-driving Waymo destroyed in shocking San Francisco attack

February 11 saw one of the most violent attacks on a self-driving vehicle to date, as a Waymo Jaguar I-PACE was surrounded, vandalised and burnt-out in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

The car was unoccupied, no one was hurt, and the incident appears to have been a one-off, according to this KRON 4 local news report:

Waymo self-driving car set on fire in San Francisco – Feb 2024

Self-driving car set on fire

The film shows a firework being launched into the cabin, starting a blaze which completely destroyed the car.

While the motive for the attack remains unclear, Aaron Peskin, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, told Reuters: “Most normal car drivers know that they have to avoid Chinatown during the Lunar New Year holidays. The computer doesn’t understand that.”

Last summer, the UK’s Self-Driving All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) predicted that people will quickly become bored with protest actions like ‘coning’ – rendering a car inoperable by placing a traffic cone on the bonnet.

With The Independent speculating that “battle lines have been drawn in the war on Big Tech”, let’s hope the APPG are right.

All the self-driving news from the London launch of Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE) UK.

Great self-driving event: PAVE UK launch, 21 February 2024

You know it’s going to be a good event when the venue is the Royal Automobile Club, Ayrton Senna’s McLaren-Honda F1 car is on display in the rotunda, and the first person you bump into is Tara Andringa, Executive Director of Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE), who has flown in from America especially to attend.

Senna's F1 car (and Colin McRae's Subaru) at the RAC Club, Feb 2024
Senna’s F1 car (and Colin McRae’s Subaru) at the RAC Club, Feb 2024

We’ve interviewed Andringa a few times for Cars of the Future. First, back in 2021, when she explained PAVE’s mission to inform the US public about self-driving vehicles. We mused then about how the UK would benefit from a similar initiative, and three short years later it has come to pass.


After a start amusingly punctuated by a crockery mishap, the day only got better with a succession of engaging keynotes, followed by a high calibre panel.

Opening, Prof Robin Clark, Dean of WMG at the University of Warwick, welcomed the support for PAVE UK from Ministers, the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), and Transport for West Midlands. He emphasised the importance of the P (partners) and E (education) in PAVE, before handing over to Andringa.

“Credit to the UK government for committing to AV,” she said. “We met representatives from CCAV at CES in 2020 and it was clear immediately that they were innovative and supportive – they just got it. They saw the promise of what AVs can do for society and were already thinking about how to build trust in the technology.”

Tara Andringa, Executive Director of self-driving organisation PAVE, at the UK launch
Tara Andringa, Executive Director of self-driving organisation PAVE, at the UK launch

In the US, PAVE has secured support from a dazzling array of partners – from academics to manufacturers to charities. It has also demonstrated that the best way to gain trust is to put people in self-driving vehicles. Seeing is believing it seems.

Hats off to Prof Sarah Sharples, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for Transport (DfT), who seamlessly extended her address to the exact amount of time it takes a Minister to plough through Whitehall mid-morning gridlock.

A specialist in human factors, Prof Sharples outlined the AV Bill currently going through parliament, and praised the Great Self-Driving Exploration.

Drawing on her Nottingham roots, she explained that the Luddites – those most famous anti-technologists – were driven by a distrust of those pushing the new weaving machinery. A valuable lesson from history.

Minister for Self-driving

Fashionably late, next up was Minister for the Future of Transport, Anthony Browne MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the DfT.

Drawing on the heritage of our salubrious surroundings, he called for a 21st century version of the 1,000 Mile Trial, organised by the Royal Automobile Club in 1900 to convince vocal sceptics of the benefits of the motor car. One of the entrants was Charles Stewart Rolls, several years before he met Frederick Henry Royce.

Minister for the Future of Transport, Anthony Browne MP
Minister for the Future of Transport, Anthony Browne MP

Recounting his personal experiences of participating in on-road self-driving trials, and going hands-free at 70mph on the M25 in a Mach-E, he set out the headline facts and figures: human error a factor in 88% of road accidents, data from Waymo in the US suggesting self-driving could be x7 safer, £600m in UK government investment, and the potential £66bn boost to the UK economy by 2040.

“Regulation to support the sector is coming to the Commons within weeks, establishing a safety threshold for AVs in law,” he said. “We are making the UK a great place to develop and deploy. The future is closer than most people think.”

Self-driving experts

It was a hard act to follow but fortunately the task fell to Prof Siddartha Khastgir, Head of Verification and Validation at WMG and a leading light in PAVE UK.

Well known to Cars of the Future readers for his work on ISO 34503:2023 and cross-domain safety assurance, Khastgir set out the new group’s vision, missions and plans.

Self-driving expert Prof Siddartha Khastgir at the launch of PAVE UK
Self-driving expert Prof Siddartha Khastgir at the launch of PAVE UK

“We need to communicate safety not by dumbing down but by focusing on accuracy,” he said. “We will learn from PAVE in the US and elsewhere, but make it specific to the UK.”

There followed presentations by Daniel Quirke, Technical Policy Manager at Wayve – who detailed their UK last mile delivery trial with Asda – Chris Lane, Head of Transport Innovation at Transport for West Midlands – who highlighted the work of their Influencing Transport Lab – and Prof Natasha Merat, Chair in Human Factors of Transport Systems at the University of Leeds – who provided notable insights into the timescales for effective handover between human drivers and automated systems. More on that in a moment.

Self-driving expert Prof Natasha Merat at the launch of PAVE UK
Self-driving expert Prof Natasha Merat at the launch of PAVE UK

After a short break, Prof Sharples was joined by Dr Elizabeth Box, Research Director at the RAC Foundation, Dr Karl Obermair, Chairman of PAVE Europe, David Wong, Head of Technology and Innovation at the SMMT, and road safety campaigner, Meera Naran MBE.

The presence of Naran was particularly poignant – not just a huge vote of confidence in the safety credentials of self-driving (from someone who lost her young son, Dev, in a crash on a smart motorway), but also a much-needed independent voice.

“There is a big difference between what is being said and what is being understood – level 2, level 3 SAE – it means nothing to me,” she said. “There’s the difference between awareness and education, the challenge of misinformation, so many new channels of communication, like TikTok. My background is health, and we put the patient at the centre everything. In this industry, the road user should be in that position.”

Further points of interest included… a lag for handover of 3 seconds in a simulator or 6 seconds in the real world, and the fact we are, apparently, 12-15 years behind electric vehicles in terms of communicating with the public.

Contributions from the audience included a plea for PAVE to also educate on ADAS, concern regarding the focus being largely on passenger cars at the expense of freight and public transport (that one sparked an impromptu round of applause!), and the likely quality of debate about self-driving in the more depressing sections of the mass media.   

Senna’s car & me

The answer to the last one, of course, is to put your faith in quality content from trusted sources. You’re welcome! After lunch, and some networking, that was almost that. Just one last job – having my picture taken with Senna’s car, which bears remarkable similarities to a certain photo from my youth.

Cars of the Future editor Neil Kennett with Senna's car (some years apart)
Cars of the Future editor Neil Kennett with Senna’s car (some years apart)

Where will self-driving be in another 35 years, and what role will PAVE UK have played? Time will tell.

Buses of the future? Dr Jan Klein says peer-to-peer sharing can unlock self-driving electric car sales.

45% ZE: UK bus sector is world leader in self-driving and clean fuel

Following the win for Project CAVForth at the inaugural Self-driving Industry Awards, the UK bus sector has achieved another notable auto tech success, this time in clean fuel.

Figures released on Friday (16th Feb) by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that 1,159 zero emission (ZE) buses entered service in the UK last year. This equates to an impressive 45.1% market share for clean fuel, making us Europe’s biggest ZE bus market by volume.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, commented: “Britain’s bus sector is recovering strongly, powered by rising passenger numbers and government funding that is finally delivering new vehicles to routes up and down the country. We need the next round of funding – fast – to put even more on the road.

“Speeding up licence derogations could unleash demand in the minibus market, helping provide zero emission mass mobility for all with the air quality, carbon emission and wider economic benefits that come with this transition.”

Cars, vans and trucks lag behind UK buses in clean fuel penetration
Cars, vans and trucks lag behind UK buses in clean fuel penetration

That’s the aim. Delivering it is another matter. Compare the 45% clean fuel market share in the bus sector to electric taking just a 5.9% share of new van sales last year. That’s flatlining on the previous year, with diesel still accounting for 90%+ of all new light commercial sales.

You think that’s bad? In the heavy goods vehicle (HGV) sector, the SMMT confirmed that Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) registrations were up threefold in 2023. Unfortunately, that equates to only 234 units, meaning just 0.5% of all new UK HGV sales last year were ZEV.

This, remember, with sales of new non-zero emission trucks under 26 tonnes due to end in 2035. That’s currently the cut-off for non-zero emission new car and van sales too, of course. Although Shadow Roads Minister, Bill Esterson, reportedly said last week that Labour will restore the 2030 deadline.

Speaking of the UK new car market, how’s the essential shift to clean fuel going there? Well, according to the SMMT, 314,687 new battery electric vehicles (BEVs) were registered here in 2023, up almost 50,000 on the previous year.

However, that still represents a slight dip in market share, from 16.6% in 2022 to 16.5% in 2023. And the SMMT emphasises that this electrification has been “driven entirely by fleet investment”, propelled by “compelling tax incentives”.

The ZEV Mandate

Amid accusations of being behind the curve in EV adoption, in October 2023, the Department for Transport (DfT) unveiled the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Mandate – a new mechanism requiring 22% of new cars and 10% of new vans sold in the UK to be electric in 2024.

This ramps up to 80% of cars and 70% of vans by 2030, and 100% of both by 2035. Vehicle manufacturers that fail to achieve the ZEV Mandate sales targets will be subject to sizeable fines: £15,000 for every car that doesn’t comply, and £9,000 for every van in 2024 (with a plan to double this to £18,000 per van). 

Flexibility is provided via a trading scheme, enabling vehicle makers to bank compliance in years when they exceed annual targets, or trade them with other manufacturers that have fallen short.

In the first year, car manufacturers can borrow up to 75% of their annual target, to support them in the initial stages, although this will decrease sharply to just 25% in 2026.

Forced EV adoption warning

Against this backdrop, Dr Jan Klein, Associate Professor of Digital Marketing at the IÉSEG School of Management, in France, has highlighted the dangers of forced EV adoption and the benefits of peer-to-peer car sharing.

Dr Jan Klein, Associate Professor of Digital Marketing at IÉSEG School of Management
Dr Jan Klein, Associate Professor of Digital Marketing at IÉSEG School of Management

“The EU’s directive to ban combustion engine car sales by 2035, along with the UK’s similar zero-emission mandate, is reshaping the automotive industry,” he said.

“Considering the current technologies, this legislation compels the market to transition entirely to electric vehicles (EVs). This forced adoption poses a tremendous challenge as it clashes with established consumer behaviour in the car market.

“Traditional car buyers are not likely to embrace this forced adoption and might even lack the financial resources to buy EVs. Thus, the eventual outcome in 2035 remains uncertain, with the potential for a surge in sales of used cars with combustion engines.

“The adoption of new technologies is driven by the promise of enhancing the customer’s status quo. However, traditional car buyers often view EVs as costly and the transition as difficult, citing concerns about range, battery reliability, and charging infrastructure.

“A pragmatic strategy to boost EV adoption involves implementing legislation targeting company cars and car fleets, rather than imposing regulations on the entire market at once. Notably, drivers exhibit less resistance to EVs in this context, as the perceived hurdles shift from the individual customer to the company providing the car.

“Additionally, this approach, beginning with larger fleets, would foster the growth of a used EV market, ultimately enhancing affordability and driving wider adoption.”

Shared self-driving electric cars

Are shared self-driving EVs the cars of the future?
Are shared self-driving EVs the cars of the future?

As to how self-driving changes the game, Dr Klein highlights the potential for private owners to rent out their cars as robotaxis.

“The future of self-driving technologies raises interesting questions about their role in our transportation landscape,” said Dr Klein. “Will we continue to own them much like conventional cars? Or will they predominantly serve as a form of public transit, facilitated by companies or individual providers? 

“Self-driving technologies lend themselves well to an innovative peer-to-peer sharing model, where individuals can purchase a car and rent it out when not in use, akin to a holiday home. This approach transforms the car into a perceived investment and could potentially accelerate the adoption of self-driving vehicles. Elon Musk has already hinted at Tesla’s plans to enable such a feature in the future.

“Promoting peer-to-peer car sharing emerges as an interesting option to drive the adoption of EVs and self-driving cars. Owners can generate income by renting out their vehicles when not in use, providing a substantial financial incentive and alleviating the ownership burden.

“Encouraging peer-to-peer sharing may prove to be a more effective strategy for boosting the presence of EVs and self-driving cars, in comparison to government regulations. Currently, awareness about this option remains limited. However, the potential for growth in this domain is evident when we consider the thriving market for home rentals on platforms like Airbnb.”

Expressions of Interest window opens for Zenzic CAM Scale-Up UK 2024/25

Up to £100k grants for Zenzic CAM Scale-Up UK 2024/25 winners

Zenzic is incentivising entries for CAM Scale-Up UK 2024/25 with the promise of up to £100,000 in government funding for each successful applicant.

Backed by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), the prestigious programme has already supported 22 UK self-driving start-ups and SMEs since 2020.

Mark Cracknell, Programme Director at Zenzic, said: “To ensure we remain at the front of the global race to develop the autonomous and connected transport solutions of tomorrow, it is vital that we continue to support the bright minds and innovative SMEs who play a key role in developing and deploying such solutions, which is why we’d encourage any business from an automotive or tech background with an idea of how they could help drive the sector forward to get in touch and find out more.”

CAM Scale-Up Winner

Lisa Layzell, CEO of self-driving pothole filling robot provider Robotiz3d – one of the winning Cohort 4 companies – is full of praise for the programme, saying: “Being part of CAM Scale-Up UK connected us to major players in the CAM industry and opened doors for us coming into 2024. It also helped us access world-leading testing facilities where we could test in as near to a real-world environment as possible.”

On track at Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) Testbed UK, 2022
On track at CAM Testbed UK, 2022

The ‘Expressions of Interest’ window opened yesterday (12 February 2024), with the Cohort 5 winners due to be announced in August.

For further info please visit the Zenzic website or email [email protected]

Classic cars, buses, bikes and more at Hornby Visitor Centre in Margate

Cars of the Past: Miniature classics and McQueen’s actual Great Escape TR6 motorbike

As regular Cars of the Future readers know, we occasionally like to look back into the world before self-driving in a series we call… Cars of the Past.

Before Christmas we were delighted to be invited to the newly revamped Hornby Visitor Centre, here in our home town of Margate.

As shown on TV’s Hornby: A Model World, ‘The Wonderworks’ features a host of miniature automotive legends, including Beatles buses, Bond cars, and an Airfix model of my Dad’s favourite Bentley.

Beatles, Bond and Bentley Cars at Hornby Visitor Centre
Beatles, Bond and Bentley Cars at Hornby Visitor Centre

There was a Margate-themed Scalextric racetrack too, and, considering the lack of match practice, yours truly was quite pleased with a sub-10-second lap!

Hornby Visitor Centre's Margate-themed Scalextric racetrack
Hornby Visitor Centre’s Margate-themed Scalextric racetrack

As to the full-sized treats, they had Daniel Craig’s Scrambler from No Time To Die, and, for one day only, the original Triumph TR6 motorbike ridden by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. It doesn’t get cooler than that!

Steve McQueen's bike from The Great Escape
Steve McQueen’s bike from The Great Escape

McQueen himself was keen to emphasise that the famous barbed wire fence jump was performed not by him but by his friend and stunt double, Bud Ekins.

No self-driving cars?

What’s all this got to do with self-driving you might ask? Well, our sector is somewhat underrepresented in the model world.

There was this Matchbox bus we covered a couple of years ago, but not a lot else. It’d be nice to change that wouldn’t it?