Highways England car interior 1

Dr Joanna White says Highways England is currently more focused on the connected bit of connected and automated mobility (CAM).

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Highways England expert predicts Level4 self-driving in towns before motorways


Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Dr Joanna White, Head of Intelligent Transport Systems at Highways England.

As the body responsible for designing, building and maintaining our motorways and major A-roads, Highways England (HE) is a uniquely important player in the UK connected and automated mobility (CAM) ecosystem. Here, Head of Intelligent Transport Systems at Highways England, chartered engineer Dr Joanna White, outlines its work on CAM.

Dr Joanna White, Head of Intelligent Transport Systems at Highways England
Dr Joanna White, Head of Intelligent Transport Systems at Highways England

JW: “A key aim in improving our service is to look at how we can safely use emerging technology to better connect the country – people and places, families and friends, businesses and customers. This includes what digital channels we might use, delivering a cleaner road environment and achieving net zero carbon.

“Our connected corridor project on the A2/M2 in Kent finished 10 months ago and we are just completing the evaluation. Collaboration is vital and this was a joint project with Kent County Council (KCC), Transport for London (TfL), the Department for Transport (DfT) and others. It was also part of a wider European project, Intercor.

“We are currently more focused on the connected bit of CAM, building on the services we already provide. This includes beaming information directly into vehicles (replicating what you see on the gantries) and also what data we can anonymously collect from vehicles’ positioning sensors. Can we maintain service from one part of the network to another? Can we do it in an accurate, timely and secure way? How do people feel about it?

“We try not to choose particular technologies – whether it’s radar, lidar, cellular – we are interested in all of it. It could be 5G and, via the DfT, we work closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which leads on that. One of the most positive government actions was the requirement for mobile operators to provide 90% coverage of the motorway network by 2026.

Highways England car interior 2
Highways England in-car upcoming junction message

“We were very proud to be involved with the HumanDrive project in which a self-driving Nissan Leaf navigated 230 miles from Cranfield to Sunderland. It was a great learning experience in how to  conduct these trials safely, underpinned by our safety risk governance. We had to identify all the risks of running such a vehicle on the strategic road network (SRN), and find ways to mitigate them. It was fascinating to see how it coped on different types of roads, kept to the lines and responded to road sign information.

“Then there’s our Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: Infrastructure Appraisal Readiness (CAVIAR) project, which has been slightly delayed due to Covid. We are building a simulation model of a section of the M1, a digital twin, and we have a real-world car equipped with all the tech which will start operating in 2021. That will collect a lot of data. This is one of our Innovation competition winning projects, run by InnovateUK.

“Within Highways England we have a designated fund for this kind of research, and that means we can invest in further trials and do the work needed to provide more vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications.

“Personally, I think that Level4 self-driving, eyes off and mind off, is years away, perhaps decades, certainly in terms of motorway environments. However, we are constantly in discussion with government on these issues, for example, we contributed to the recent consultation on Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS).

“Working closely with industry and academia, we have already started off-road freight platooning and are looking to move to on-road trials. We’ve had lots of discussions about freight-only lanes and the left lane is often suggested, but you have to consider the design of the road network. There are lots of junctions close to each other, so how would that work, especially at motorway speeds? At first, I see self-driving more for deliveries at slower speeds in urban areas but, as always, we will listen to consumer demand.”

For further info see highwaysengland.co.uk.

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Author: Neil Kennett

Neil is MD of Featurebank Ltd. He launched Carsofthefuture.co.uk in 2019.

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