Prof Nick Reed on how automated vehicles can bring safer, more sustainable transport and a better society for all.

Safety, air quality and accessibility: Professor predicts how driverless cars will change UK

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with the founder of Reed Mobility, Professor Nick Reed.

Specialising in psychology and road safety, Professor Nick Reed is one of the UK’s leading experts on connected and automated vehicles (CAVs). His company, Reed Mobility, helps organisations and businesses in their understanding of risk and the effectiveness of mitigations for infrastructure, vehicles, drivers and road users.

What major changes do you expect in UK transport over the next 10-15 years? 

I hope we’ve moved beyond the high point of hype and will start to see the commercial deployment of automated vehicles, delivering positive impacts on safety, air quality and accessibility to transport – all the radical transformations the AV industry has been promising. Over the last few weeks, with announcements from the likes of Waymo and Cruise, there are signs this might be happening.

The issue of air quality isn’t going away. We need to accelerate decarbonisation and encourage active transport. I hear people say we need to start designing cities around people rather than cars, but I don’t think that’s quite right. We have always designed cities around people, but for a long time we’ve seen cars as the best solution for moving people – now we understand that alternatives are required to achieve sustainable mobility in urban centres. Data will be critical in changing that thinking, in understanding mobility in cities and rural areas – helping us to understand who needs to travel, how best to serve those needs, and the social, environmental, safety and economic impacts of meeting that demand.

Can you expand on the likely development of self-driving vehicles within this timeframe e.g. freight platooning, robotaxis and privately owned driverless cars?

We have converging strands of automation. The likes of Waymo and limited operational design domain (ODD), the car doing everything in restricted circumstances, and then the manufacturers of traditional privately-owned cars, including Tesla, introducing more ADAS features and increasing the level of automation.

That convergence, where automated cars can do everything everywhere, is a long way off, but over time the boundaries of the ODDs in which vehicles are capable of operating in an automated mode will expand, encompassing more roads, more traffic situations and more weather conditions.

Automation in which control shifts from human drivers to vehicle systems present a challenge and, again, data may play a critical role in resolving this issue. To have this functionality, drivers may have to accept much greater driver monitoring than is typical in cars today. There’s also the concern about how extended use of automation over time may potentially result in deskilling the driver. Cars may decide that, based on their observations of driving behaviour, the driver is not sufficiently capable to have automation! The evidence on achieving safe sharing of responsibility for driving with automation systems is mixed, to say the least.

An additional route for road automation that has a lot of promise is for the movement of goods. With no passengers on board – and fewer concerns over vehicles operating at low speed or achieving passenger comfort – companies may be more willing to launch automated freight vehicles (like Nuro). This may open up new business models for delivery services that would be impossible with human driven deliveries.

With reference to your six key perspectives (safety, environment, prosperity, productivity, technology and joy) what benefits will these vehicles bring?

Safety – it’s about tackling human error as a contributory factor in road crashes. No one is claiming that automation will solve everything, but it may start to reduce the prevalence of common factors like excess speed, intoxication and fatigue.

Environment – it’s about the whole model of transportation. If we can shift to shared, on-demand vehicles, then maybe we need fewer of them. Also, active travel might feel safer if vehicles are more predictable.

Prosperity – mobility is a key factor in success for communities and individuals. AVs might help tackle issues of equality in transport provision.

Productivity – it’s about reclaiming time. If the AV is driving you can spend time doing other things, whether that’s being more productive for work or gaining a better life balance.

Technology – most people agree that technology has brought huge benefits, but we can do better, for example, in terms of poor air quality or the number of people dying in crashes. To achieve this, we need to break out of the transport model we’ve been using for 100 years – and we may need new technologies to help us do that.

Joy – our transport systems should be a source of happiness. Let’s create environments that are aesthetically attractive. If we want our children to play in the streets we need transport that’s compatible with that, not lorries thundering past.

What are the potential downsides in the shift to self-driving and how can these be mitigated?

Of course, there’s a utopian and dystopian version of a future with automated vehicles. People often raise the issue of unemployment for professional drivers but the widescale deployment of automated vehicles is going to have a long transition period. Automation might address a shortage of drivers in the freight sector and may also create new jobs in remote vehicle monitoring and fleet maintenance. Although the transition may be long, it is something we need to be thinking about now to ensure that it is a smooth process.

There’s also a challenge coming around how we see crashes from an ethical point of view. Unfortunately, 1.3 million people die on our roads globally every year, of which there’s about 1,800 in the UK. Automation may reduce that number significantly but we need to be prepared for the discussion about fatalities caused by the actions of machines rather than human drivers.

Another concern is that models of automated vehicle deployment could further embed personal car use into society, when active travel is more sustainable. Automated vehicles have the potential to change our mobility ecosystem radically – so it’s important that we have a clear vision about how that change can bring safer, more sustainable transport and a better society for all.

For further info, including more detail on the six key perspectives, visit reed-mobility.co.uk

California-based Xona Space is working on new generation Low Earth Orbit GPS for self-driving cars.

Next generation: self-driving GPS is out of this world

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with the Co-Founder and CEO of Xona Space, Brian Manning.

Compared to the familiar British reserve, California-based Xona Space is from a different planet. This self-declared “group of space ninjas, engineers, GPS nerds, motorcycle racers and adventurers” has helped to put over 50 vehicles in space and published over 50 scientific papers on navigation technology. That’s handy because today’s sat navs are creaking under the sky high requirements of self-driving cars. Brian Manning says his company’s new Pulsar positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) service will provide the necessary security, availability and accuracy.

BM: “We’re primarily working on new generation GPS from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) – something much more secure, precise and resilient. It will sure-up a lot of issues. GPS has been phenomenal, it has given a lot of value for a long time, but people are now trying to use it for applications it wasn’t designed for. It’s tough to get where you’re going when you don’t know where you are.”

A reference perhaps to the GPS spoofing incident at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, when cars from a host of manufacturers displayed their location as Buckingham, England, in 2036! Apparently Americans also do sarcasm now. We swiftly move on to realistic timescales for the SAE levels of driving automation.

BM: “Ubiquitos Level5 is probably still far off, but personally I think we’ll start seeing deployments in contained environments within five years. I came from SpaceX so I know that with the right team you can get an amazing amount done in a very short time. A big part of Xona’s focus is to get Level5 tech out of the contained environments and also to work in bad weather and more rural environments, where current systems struggle. Rather than which sectors will be early adopters, I look more geographically – to highways with autonomous lanes. That said, it will probably be more on the freight side first because there’s more safety standards involved when you have passengers on board.”

We were wondering which might come first, Level5 or a winner in the Presidential election, but that’s all sorted now, isn’t it?

For further info, visit Xonaspace.com

Aside from recognising Cars of the Future as a CAM Creator, Zenzic’s new Roadmap features other notable developments…

Zenzic unveils updated UK Connected and Automated Mobility Roadmap

On Tuesday 20 October 2020, Zenzic unveiled the latest (second) version of its UK Connected and Automated Mobility Roadmap to 2030.

Bringing together government, industry and academia, Zenzic is tasked with establishing the UK as a world leader in self-driving.

Aside from the headline news that Cars of the Future was recognised as an official CAM Creator (sorry, had to get that in), there were notable developments in relation to regulation, safety and public perception.

During a virtual launch event (due to the ongoing Covid plague), Daniel Ruiz, CEO of Zenzic, outlined the “phenomenal progress” made in the 12 months since the launch of the first Roadmap. For instance, the fact that the first self-driving vehicle testing safety standards milestone is on track to be reached by end of this year.

He also highlighted the increased support for local governments on connected vehicles and emphasised the “need to continue to invest”.

Ruiz then handed over to Mark Cracknell, head of technology at Zenzic and architect of the Roadmap, who praised the UK’s collaborative approach over that of other countries where tech companies push the agenda.

“The Roadmap details the route to delivering the vision,” he said. “We are only one year into a 10 year plan and we are in a great position, with activity and progress reflected in the real world.”

Cracknell then joined a panel discussion, moderated by Alex Kreetzer of Auto Futures, with Imogen Pierce, head of experience strategy at Arrival (formerly of Jaguar), and Dr Richard Fairchild, operations director at Aurrigo. Given the participants, it understandably focussed on mobility as a service (MAAS) and first and last mile transport solutions.

It was unfortunate that this event coincided with Bauer’s Virtual Smart Transport Conference. Surely the driverless highway is not yet so congested that organisations have to tread on each other’s toes?

Anyway, if you’d like to explore the new Roadmap, you are very welcome to do so here.

In an explosive exclusive interview with Cars of the Future, transport expert Christian Wolmar presents a devastating critique of the self-driving dream.

Are driverless cars the future? Don’t believe the hype says Wolmar

As an arch critic of the UK’s autonomous vehicle plans, transport commentator Christian Wolmar sums up his views in the title of his book, Driverless Cars: On a Road to Nowhere.

“The problems are almost too great to list, but my primary concerns are two-fold: technological and environmental,” he says. “There are huge worries about rushing into it, cutting corners which might result in accidents and deaths, as they already have.

“Then there’s a bigger issue: what is the positive outcome? I just don’t see it. People are not asking for it, it doesn’t solve problems such as congestion or pollution, yet huge amounts of money are going into it with almost no return.

“The technology can be hacked. There’s the risk of deskilling drivers with the adoption of more automated driving aids, then expecting them to take over in the event of an emergency. The more you look at the driverless vision, the more dystopian it appears.”

At this point, Wolmar casually mentions a host of other potential pitfalls concerning legality, privacy, practicality. You get the picture. He’s not a fan. Following this initial brutal attack on the foundation stones of the self-driving dream, he quickly covers off some popular retorts.

“The argument goes that driverless cars will help the blind and others who can’t drive, but logically this must mean more cars on the road and therefore more congestion,” he says. “The response is “ah, no, because there will be shared use”, but there’s no evidence that people want that. It isn’t a realistic concept, but even if we get there it will not be a good place.”

So why are governments, vehicle manufacturers and tech companies so obsessed with it? “The proponents of driverless have managed to create a climate in which the public and politicians think it is inevitable, but it isn’t,” he says.

“After 12 years of testing robotaxis in sunny climates on nice wide geofenced highways you still have to sign a nondisclosure agreement to get in one! The developers are driven by fear that someone else will make the technology work and become the market leader, but everything points to the fact that this is a technological dead end. Like Concorde, lots of great ideas have floundered.”

Finally, Wolmar relents briefly from his devastating critique. “There may be some limited uses such as airport transit,” he admits. “It’s a bit like the moon landing, some great technologies will come out of it. Indeed, if you speak to people at trade shows, a lot of them are very skeptical about driverless ever becoming a dominant technology. They already have successful businesses supplying cameras or software or lidar, and that’s where their interest lies.

“Outside of the industry, many think driverless cars are already available to buy. It is pure hype. They don’t exist. Headlines in the media claim driverless cars can do this or that, and then in paragraph five it says there’s a safety driver.

“You saw it with covid and the supposed benefits of driverless delivery. If anything, the impact of the pandemic on driverless was to completely undermine the shared use argument, which is vital to the business case. Coronavirus, and whatever comes after it, is as much a problem for shared use as it is for public transport.”

So, what’s Wolmar’s preferred solution? “The approach must be different for each town or city, but urban areas are not suitable for the unregulated use of private cars,” he says. “You have to recognise that road space is a limited asset, to do otherwise is bad economics. This is not a war on the motorist. There will be cars of the future, but cars in their proper place, particularly rural areas.”

Driverless Cars: On a Road to Nowhere second edition (2020)

For more detailed analysis (and scathing criticism), the second edition of Wolmar’s book “Driverless Cars: On a Road to Nowhere” is out now via London Publishing Partnership priced at £9.99. Alternatively, email christian.wolmar@gmail.com or visit www.christianwolmar.co.uk.

Given how quickly they’ve revolutionised the motor industry, who’s to say Tesla won’t also win the race to driverless?

Fully autonomous by 2023? Tesla leads the charge to self-driving cars

2020 has been an epic year for Tesla. While virtually every other vehicle manufacturer continues to build petrol, diesel and hybrid cars, Elon Musk’s commitment to pure electric has paid off handsomely.

Back in February, the Model 3 was named UK Car of the Year. By July, a share price surge had made Tesla the world’s most valuable car company, worth a staggering $208bn, overtaking Toyota (on $203bn) and miles ahead of Volkswagen ($74bn), General Motors ($36bn) and Ford ($24bn).

Since 2016, with the introduction of the Autopilot Hardware 2 package, Tesla has made ever bolder claims about full self-driving. “It’s almost getting to a point where I can go from my house to work with no interventions,” boasted Musk this summer.

Such remarks have drawn stinging criticism. “Tesla has repeatedly rolled out crude beta features, some of which can put people’s safety at risk and shouldn’t be used anywhere but on a private test track,” said William Wallace, manager of safety policy for Washington-based Consumer Reports. 

Not so long ago, rival carmakers were similarly dismissive of battery power. What they’d give to be as desirable as Tesla now!  

Last week, as part of his 2020 annual shareholder meeting (and much-publicised #BatteryDay), Musk laid down an ambitious new marker: “I think probably like in about three years from now, we’re confident we can make a very competent, very compelling $25,000 electric vehicle that’s also fully autonomous,” he said.

Given how quickly they’ve revolutionised the industry, who’s to say Tesla won’t also win the race to driverless?

Space age navigation for driverless cars

In a fascinating new article, published on 18 September 2020, NASA explained how its laser-based lunar landing technology could be adopted by self-driving cars.

Facing many of the same navigational and hazard avoidance challenges, NASA brought sensors, cameras, algorithms and high-performance computers together under the Safe and Precise Landing Integrated Capabilities Evolution (SPLICE) project.

Considering Mars is approximately 34 million miles from earth, and NASA successfully landed the Curiosity rover within a 12×4 mile target area, autonomous vehicle developers would be wise to pay attention.

What’s more, NASA intends to be even more precise in future, with a new variation called Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL), which detects the movement and velocity of distant objects, as well as a spacecraft’s own motion relative to the ground.

Steve Sandford, former director at NASA’s Langley Research Center and now Chief Technology Officer at Psionic, said: “Doppler lidar’s high resolution can distinguish between objects that are only several inches apart and even at a distance of several hundred feet.” Potentially perfect for detecting, for instance, a pedestrian crossing a road.

For further info, read the original NASA article.