Self-driving on track in 1967 feat. BBC Archive footage of an amazing connected, automated, shared and electric vehicle.

Cars of the Past: BBC’s 1967 report on self-driving Alden staRRcar

As regular Cars of the Future readers will know, we occasionally like to look back in a series we call… Cars of the Past. Well, today is one of those days.

Following last year’s release of a 1971 news broadcast on “driverless cars and the future of motoring”, the BBC Archive has published another great Retro Transport report: “The Self-Driving Car Of Tomorrow”, from 1967.

The “dual-mode” Self-Transport Road and Rail Car (staRRcar), was designed by Harvard graduate William Alden in the 1960s.

The report describes it as “America’s answer to the universal problem of personal transport in congested cities – combining the door-to-door convenience of the private car with the speed and relaxation of public transport at its best.”

Self-driving on track

The battery-powered three-seater can be driven ‘normally’ on local roads, but also has the ability to join automated guideways – 8ft-wide tracks designed to be installed alongside existing road lanes.

Self-driving on track in 1967: Alden staRRcar
Self-driving on track in 1967: Alden staRRcar

Users simply press a button to select their destination, sit back and read the paper, while the staRRcar slots into a train of such vehicles, self-driving at up to 60mph.

After taking a spur exit, they can retake control and continue their journey, or leave the staRRcar at a car park, ready to be used by others.

So… connected, automated, shared and electric (CASE) – that’s pretty forward-thinking for 2023, let alone 1967.

Thanks to Dr Nick Reed, of Reed Mobility, on Linkedin for putting us on to this video.

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CAVForth success: The UK’s first self-driving bus service

The UK’s first self-driving bus service: AB1 in Scotland

Congratulations to all involved in the CAVForth project. The UK’s first self-driving bus service (with a safety driver) is up and running – operating, according to the Stagecoach Bus website, a “frequent timetable from Monday 15th May with the capacity for around 10,000 passenger journeys per week”.

Officially still a trial, a fleet of five Alexander Dennis Enviro200AV buses will travel at up to 50mph from Ferrytoll Park & Ride in Fife to Edinburgh Park Transport Interchange – crossing the iconic Forth Road Bridge.

Self-driving success

When we interviewed Jim Hutchinson, CEO of Fusion Processing – the company behind the CAVstar software platform – back in 2021, he predicted that CAVForth would put the UK on the self-driving map. And it has.

Scotland’s Transport Minister, Kevin Stewart, and Ray O’Toole, Executive Chairman for Stagecoach, were among those at the media launch, with David Webb, Head of Innovation at the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), heralding it “a global first”.

The local Dunfermline Press carried this great video of CAVForth in action.

CAVForth self-driving bus

Future expansion

What next? In February, we reported that CAVForth2 had won a healthy share of £81m in combined government and industry funding in the Commercialising Connected and Automated Mobility competition.

Alexander Dennis have confirmed that the project will extend the existing 14-mile route, taking it on to Dunfermline city centre. The additional five-mile section will feature more complex driving scenarios on busy A and B roads, including mixing with city centre traffic.

We still have the words of Jim Hutchinson ringing in our ears: “We developed the CAVstar platform as a scalable solution – a drive system we could put into pretty much any vehicle, from small cars up to HGV.”

Pictured L-R: Jim Hutchinson, CEO Fusion, Scottish Transport Minister, Kevin Stewart, Regional Director Stagecoach, Sam Greer, and Alexander Dennis President and Managing Director, Paul Davies.

Shortlisted by Zenzic for CAM Scale-up, Streetscope’s Collision Hazard Measure can inform safe self-driving deployment.

A new measure for safer vehicles, self-driving or not

In this Cars of the Future exclusive, the co-founders of Pasadena-based Streetscope, Mark Goodstein and David Muyres, explain how their Collision Hazard Measure enables self-driving stakeholders to accelerate deployment with confidence.

DM: “The UK is a leader in automated vehicle (AV) development and we’re in discussion with an array of companies and organisations about demonstrating our capability in the UK environment. That would be a great success point for communicating our value to customers worldwide.

“Our technology evaluates the safe moving of any vehicle, human or machine driven. We treat it as a black box and evaluate how safely it moves amongst hazardous objects in the street scene, using simulation or camera data. Then we create indexes that different industries can use, for example, insurers, vehicle manufacturers, regulators and planners.

“The insurance industry is the one we’re having most conversations with. They want to understand the hazards of new technology vehicles, and now they’re realising we can help with the human-driven side as well. They can use our data to price risk more effectively.

Informing safe self-driving deployment

“Vehicle developers need to answer basic questions like: Am I to safe to deploy yet? They currently don’t have an independent way to objectively measure how safely a vehicle moves, and we can provide that.

“Regulatory is very interesting and it’s nice they’re interested in using our measure to guide future development.

“Infrastructure planning companies can hire us to evaluate a future self-driving route. We can identify high hazard locations and make recommendations to mitigate issues.”

Streetscope Collision Hazard Measure for self-driving
Streetscope Collision Hazard Measure for vehicles incl. self-driving

And you’re talking to vehicle verification bodies too?

MG: “Yes. We’re a start-up, not at scale yet, but all we need is kinematic data, the position of all objects each tick of the clock, from any traffic scene to calculate the hazard posed between the vehicle and all other objects. And we can get that from either simulations or using cameras as data sources. Then we score them based on the Collision Hazard Measure we’ve invented.

“We could use lidar and radar, but those geometric sensors are very expensive. Cameras are ubiquitous, so we’re using them and making a pretty good job of it.

“There’s a school of thought that you can use aggregated data from other drive events using cell phone based sensors, but they lack context. Why did they slam on the brakes? Why did they accelerate so aggressively? There is no correlation to risk.

“We’re trying to get these industries to recognise that the data they’re spending a lot of money on is insufficient, and they’d be better off using our Collision Hazard Measure.”

For further info, visit the Streetscope website.

Zenzic CAM Scale-Up winner Dromos says UK is currently best placed to become world leader in safe self-driving.

World leader in self-driving: why Dromos is a UK success story

In this Cars of the Future exclusive, we talk self-driving, Zenzic and the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro with Dr. Martin Dürr, co-founder of Dromos GmbH.

We first covered the innovative German autonomous network transit (ANT) specialist in November 2020, in our interview with award-winning designer, Paul Priestman, co-founder of Dromos partner, PriestmanGoode.

“The system is important, not just the vehicle,” said Priestman back then. “The car we designed is half the width of a normal car, with space for two or three people. It is elegant public transport designed around the passenger – the first autonomous system to deliver mass transit, and the infrastructure belongs to the city.”

Dromos 2022

Fast forward two years and this exciting concept is well on the way to becoming reality, excitingly, first, right here in the UK. As Dr. Dürr explains…

Dr. Martin Dürr, co-founder of Dromos GmbH
Dr. Martin Dürr, self-driving expert and co-founder of Dromos GmbH

MD: “Dromos was founded by myself and Dr. Antje Völker. We worked together 25 years ago at McKinsey and have both been in the transportation space ever since. We always wondered why no one seems to tackle the 400-pound gorilla in the corner of the room: that classical mass transit systems are extremely expensive, outdated and widely disliked.

“Transport for London came close to being bankrupt recently, contemplated shutting down lines due to operating costs. Paris subsidises its system by around €8bn annually. Many cities around the world don’t have that kind of money, so there is no public transport.

“Antje and I decided we had to do something. We agreed that any solution had to meet the needs of two key audiences. The first is, of course, the user. They want a quality of ride comparable to that of a taxi, but at the price of a bus ticket. Within quality of ride, privacy is an important topic, along with convenience and cleanliness.

The second key audience is the legal entity that contracts the building and running of the system – a city or national authority. Their current options, like railway or bus networks, have hardly changed in 150 years. The user experience often isn’t great, and the costs are astronomical.

“Our challenge was to devise a transportation service suitable for the 21st century: on-demand, with privacy, CO2 neutral and deliverable without the need for subsidies. That’s Dromos. We provide capacity at a much better cost per mile, with 50% lower construction costs, construction time and space consumption.”

Dromos self-driving vehicle
Dromos self-driving vehicle

NK: These megatrends often get conflated – are you saying that ridesharing is incompatible with self-driving?

MD: “Pretty much, yes. Autonomous ridesharing pilots have shown that passengers have very little – if any – desire to share a driverless vehicle with a stranger.

“We talked to people in Brazil about a system for Sao Paulo and they said rideshare was an absolute non-starter because of safety fears. Having cameras on board doesn’t really help, because the police will only be able to step in after a crime has been committed. Actually, people are willing to pay a premium not to share.”

Dromos Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM) proposal
Dromos Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM) proposal

NK: Tell us about your plans for the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro

MD: “Okay, so we refined our proposal and began talking to cities around the world about tendering, including Auckland, Hong Kong and Cambridge in the UK. To be precise, the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority. They issued a tender a year ago for a comprehensive 160km-long system.

“We proposed a solution that’s better for the customer in terms of the user experience, and better for the city in terms of value – connecting villages to the centres, on-demand, at low cost, with no intermittent stopping. Passengers travel directly to their destination.

“Along with our UK partners – PriestmanGoode, Buro Happold and Rider Levett Bucknall – we’ve been selected to provide a more detailed submission. It’s a huge opportunity to embrace a new transport paradigm.”

Indeed, the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer, said: “The CAM will bring the world-leading, innovative and transformational public transport network that this region needs to continue to thrive.

“This challenge is a test to the very best brains in the market to help pioneer what the CAM will look like and how it can best be delivered. I’m clear that we want the CAM to offer our region the kind of high-quality public transport normally reserved for the biggest cities.”

Zenzic CAM Scale-Up winners
Zenzic CAM Scale-Up winners

NK: Then, earlier this month, you were chosen for the Zenzic CAM Scale-Up Programme

MD: “Yes, another great achievement. As a German, it is incredibly encouraging that the UK is currently best placed to become a world leader in the safe adoption of autonomous travel.

“Britain is more willing to experiment and has a clear vision of what needs to be done – The Zenzic Roadmap to 2030. You’ve got a world class testing environment – including the Smart Mobility Living Lab in London – the legal infrastructure is coming, and there’s support from government via the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV). The package is complete, and ready to go; more so than the German government can offer today.

“As a result, following excellent discussions with the CCAV, we have shared data with them and moved a lot of our attention and our value chain to the UK. The environment here is best suited to us from a homologation point of view. It will enable us to build up to our first live installation right here in the UK.

“We were also able to invite several of our suppliers to do their testing in the UK, so that process is also on track now. We are in discussion with other authorities here – Manchester, the Ministry for Transport in Scotland and others. With a dedicated infrastructure, delivering safe and reliable transport is easy for us.”

For further info, visit the Dromos website.

French company Navya in self-driving shuttle trial at major US airport.

Video: NBC reports on cool Navya self-driving trial at JFK airport

NBC in New York has reported on a recent self-driving trial using Navya Autonom shuttles to take passengers to and from the long-term parking lot at John F. Kennedy Airport.

Self-driving news from NBC New York, October 2022

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is a bi-state agency that builds, operates and maintains many of the most important transportation assets in the country, including the region’s three major airports – LaGuardia, Newark Liberty and JFK.

Self-driving comment

“If you have a bus running every 10 or 20 minutes, and we replaced that with four or five autonomous vehicles, maybe you’re only waiting two minutes,” said Seth Wainer, of The Port Authority.

Platooning on a predetermined route, the trial included the shuttle stopping “on a dime” when a pedestrian stepped out in front of it.

Johnathan Balon, MD of Navya, explained: “It’s changing the future. It’s fully electric, fully autonomous. It’s lowering their carbon footprint and it’s allowing people to understand the new technology that’s coming.”

Maintenance of Navya self-driving vehicle
Maintenance of Navya self-driving vehicle

Navya CEO, Sophie Desormière, added: “Navya’s shuttles are adapted to a large number of uses, and airports represent a good case in point. Not only do our shuttles offer a solution for the transportation of people, but our Tract also offers the same for the transportation of goods.

“The trial will also provide an opportunity to demonstrate once again the strength of our hypervision technology. Our mastery of remote and platooning fleet management is already established in France, and we will be taking a further step forward by introducing it in the US.”

Navya is listed on the Euronext regulated market in Paris. For more on EV and self-driving stocks, see our recent finance feature. For further info, visit the Navya website.

Self-driving news from Autonomy’s London City Summit 2022

London City Summit 2022: preparing the capital for safe self-driving

Autonomy’s invitation-only London City Summit at the Southbank Centre featured a great line-up of speakers on subjects ranging from self-driving tech to last-mile logistics.

It was 12 October and, hands up, I could only spare a few hours (including lunch, of course), so apologies to those I missed.

The overriding theme was the UK as a showcase for the safe adoption of self-driving, with world-class testing facilities and sensible standards… and therefore a prime location for investment.

Bosch on self-driving

The event was sponsored by Bosch and my first session was a keynote by their head of autonomous transport solutions, Olaf Monz.

London City Summit 2022: Olaf Monz of Bosch on self-driving
London City Summit 2022: Olaf Monz of Bosch on self-driving

“It’s not about selling a vehicle anymore, it’s about shaping an ecosystem,” he said, talking of the partnership with British software company, Five AI, which Bosch acquired earlier this year. 

He promised that Bosch’s approach would be “chip agnostic” and referred to “the magic moment when you can remove the driver”.

There followed a short video of Bosch’s self-driving car navigating around an 18km route in Stuttgart at speeds of up to 100km/h.

Next up was a panel moderated by Nick Reed, of Reed Mobility, and featuring Connor Champ, lawyer on the Automated Vehicles Project at the Law Commission of England and Wales, and Jakob Kammerer, senior product manager at Bosch.

London City Summit 2022: Nick Reed self-driving panel
London City Summit 2022: Nick Reed self-driving panel

Reflecting the candour which characterised the whole event, Reed expressed surprise that he was allowed to call the session “Are we sure we want AVs in cities?”

Champ detailed how the government had accepted virtually all of the Law Commission’s recommendations. Notably, encouraging “a no blame safety culture”, with a regulator similar to the Civil Aviation Authority, and an incident investigator similar to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.

To facilitate public acceptance, he wants said authority to report on how implementation is going. However, when it came to measuring safety, “people disagreed with every suggested metric!”

Jakob Kammerer poetically referred to discovering “the beauty in software”, describing Bosch’s pioneering work on verification and validation.

“Our trials show that people are curious about self-driving,” he said. “Transparency always helps. We explain what we are doing and why – to make improved mobility for everyone. Once they see that a product is good, that it works and solves a problem, they will adopt it very quickly.”

Buro Happold on self-driving

The next panel was moderated by Federico Cassani, director of transport and mobility at Buro Happold, and featured Prof Bani Anvari, of University College London, Margarethe Theseira, head of UK consulting at Buro Happold, and designer Marco Mazzotta of Heatherwick Studio.

London City Summit 2022: Federico Cassani self-driving panel
London City Summit 2022: Federico Cassani self-driving panel

Prof Anvari outlined the impressive facilities at UCL’s new Person-Environment-Activity Research Laboratory (PEARL) in East London, where they create all manner of life-sized surroundings and examine how people interact with them.

Theseira, an economist who advised on the new Elizabeth Line, looked at the costs and benefits of self-driving – the likelihood that “the real benefits will come when everything is fully automated”, but also her worry that “it will be a rich person’s toy”. She noted that car ownership is already much lower among lower income groups, resulting in restricted access to mobility and increased loneliness.

Cassani saw self-driving as “an opportunity for far more equitable mobility”, while Mazzotta mused on how cities might evolve architecturally with widespread AV adoption. He suggested that a huge amount of parking space could be freed up, asking: “What will we use the space for? Is it going to be public or private?”

Self-driving education

The last keynote before lunch was by Yasmine Fage, co-founder of Goggo Network, on her vision to provide all people with autonomous, electric and shared mobility. She described last mile delivery as “an increasing pain point for companies in cities”, and pointed to Goggo’s mobile lockers in Paris as one of many innovative solutions.

The networking lunch – a veritable banquet – was a chance to catch up with, among others, Lukas Nekermann (more of him in a moment), Patricia La Torre of Humanising Autonomy, Richard Barrington of Smart Cities and Land Mobility, Roland Meister of Five, Luigi Bisbiglia of SBD Automotive, Mark Cracknell of Zenzic, the CCAV’s Michael Talbot, and Dr Martin Dürr of Dromos.

London City Summit 2022: Lukas Nekermann on self-driving education
London City Summit 2022: Lukas Nekermann on self-driving education

Immediately after lunch came a keynote by the aforementioned Mr Neckermann, of PAVE Europe. Cars of the Future readers will be familiar with PAVE’s origins in America and their mission to “inform the public about automated vehicles”. Despite a jibe from the audience about the required marketing budget (!), such educational initiatives must surely be welcomed.

Mobility super-apps

Next-up, the final session for me, was a panel on “mobility super-apps”, moderated by Suzanne Hoadley, of Polis, and featuring Duncan Robertson, of e-scooter and e-bike operator Dott, and David Koral of Free Now, “the app with the largest vehicle choice for consumers across Europe”.

London City Summit 2022: mobility super-apps panel
London City Summit 2022: mobility super-apps panel

Robertson argued that decision makers must limit the number of operators as “having too many doesn’t work for anyone, although consumers might benefit from a price war to start with.”

Koral highlighted the importance of offering “anywhere to anywhere” journeys within cities and beyond, while both were surprisingly open to sharing data with public authorities.

The stat of the day was the Transport for London target that, by 2041, 80% of journeys in the capital should be either by public transport or active travel.

My capsule review is that reassuring uncertainty abounded. There was general agreement that self-driving will be a gamechanger, but people freely admitted they didn’t have all the answers. How will AVs impact future mobility? How quickly?

Many of the big questions remain unanswered, and we in the UK are comfortable with that for now, because safety is our top priority. 

For further info, visit the London City Summit page on the Autonomy website

Aurrigo’s self-driving vehicles arrive in Taunton, Somerset, as part of CCAV trial.

The Great Self-Driving Exploration in Taunton

The good people of Taunton, Somerset, were treated to rides in Aurrigo’s self-driving Auto-Pod and Auto-Shuttle as The Great Self-Driving Exploration continued this week.

Run by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), and research specialist BritainThinks, a similar trial took place at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland in June.

Self-driving feedback

Lucy Bush, Research Director at BritainThinks, explained: “It offers an opportunity to understand what people think of self-driving vehicles as they are now, and also their expectations for the future.

“This will provide crucial insight to government and industry to support the development of self-driving technology that benefits everyone across the UK.”

At Cars of the Future, we’ve been following Coventry-based Aurrigo since 2019, when it partnered with Blind Veterans UK for the world’s first driverless trial involving disabled people.

For this event, it supplied three different vehicles:

Aurrigo self-driving vehicles at Alnwick Castle, June 2022
Aurrigo self-driving vehicles at Alnwick Castle, June 2022

On the left, the ten-seater Auto-Shuttle is the first road legal vehicle to be manufactured by the Group. It can operate fully autonomously or be driven manually.

In the middle is the Auto-Deliver, a one-off prototype designed for home deliveries.

On the right is the four-seater Auto-Pod, designed for non-road passenger transportation, such as airports, university campuses and care communities.

At Taunton, the Auto-Pod operated at the picturesque Vivary Park, close to the town centre, while the Auto-Shuttle ran at Somerset County Cricket Club, where the Auto-Deliver was also on display.

Aurrigo self-driving Auto-Delivery vehicle atSomerset County Cricket Club, September 2022
Aurrigo self-driving Auto-Delivery vehicle at Somerset County Cricket Club, September 2022

At Alnwick, the Auto-Shuttle took passengers from the bus station up to the castle – a 1.2km route shared with cars, bikes and pedestrians – while the Auto-Pod carried passengers on a shared 500m path between the castle and Alnwick Gardens.

 Aurrigo self-driving Auto-Pod at Alnwick Castle, June 2022
Aurrigo self-driving Auto-Pod at Alnwick Castle, June 2022

Ricky Raines, Operations Manager at Aurrigo, said: “We believe these types of first and last miles transport will be key to supporting people with mobility issues.

“These events are extremely useful in helping understand how individuals in rural locations feel about self-driving technology.”

Further afield, also in September, Aurrigo had a Pod at the joint Department for Transport (DfT) and Innovate UK stand at the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress 2022 in Los Angeles.

Aurrigo self-driving Pod at ITS World Congress 2022
Aurrigo self-driving Pod at ITS World Congress 2022

For further information see the Aurrigo, CCAV and BritainThinks websites.

NEVS Sango EVs to be fitted with Oxbotica self-driving tech.

Gimme, gimme, gimme a robotaxi after midnight! Oxbotica and NEVS unite for self-driving, all-electric on-demand mobility

Just in time for Eurovision, one of the UK’s leading self-driving companies, Oxbotica, has a signed a long-term strategic partnership with Swedish disruptive mobility organisation, NEVS.

Stefan Tilk of NEVS and Gavin Jackson of Oxbotica agree new self-driving EV deal
Stefan Tilk of NEVS and Gavin Jackson of Oxbotica agree new self-driving EV deal

The agreement will see Oxbotica integrating its Driver autonomy system into NEVS’ eye-catching Sango electric vehicle (EV). The result: a fleet of self-driving, all-electric vehicles providing on-demand mobility services on geo-fenced public roads by the end of 2023.

“Gimme, gimme, gimme a robotaxi after midnight” as Swedish super troup and multi-Eurovison winners, ABBA, nearly said.

If successful, “multiple projects in Europe” will follow in 2024 and, from 2025 onwards, the solution will be “scaled across the globe”.

Self-driving collaborations

Oxbotica is building a reputation for major collaborations and Cars of the Future was on the money (money money) with news of its all-weather radar localisation solution for automated vehicles (AVs) with Navtech Radar, and its AV trial at BP’s Lingen refinery in Germany.

You can read more about the Oxford University spin-out’s vision in this 2021 interview with Co-founder and CTO, Professor Paul Newman.

Its new partner, National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB (NEVS), was established in 2012, with roots from the 1940s, and is based in Trollhättan in Sweden’s famous automotive cluster.

Official comments

Commenting on the NEVS partnership, Gavin Jackson, new CEO at Oxbotica, said: “The combination of Oxbotica Driver and this stunning, next-generation, electric vehicle is a perfect match.

“It allows us to create an urban mobility service that will make roads safer, cleaner, and less congested, and provide customers with a new way to travel. The partnership will truly change how the earth moves and I can’t wait to see the first vehicles out on the road next year.”

Stefan Tilk, President at NEVS, said: “Having a partnership with Oxbotica and being able to progress substantially with its autonomous stack as the “driver”, will indeed make the ecosystem of our mobility solution complete.

“Through this partnership we will be able to deploy pilots and commercial fleets – ensuring a breakthrough in the movement of people in a green, safe and smart way, paving the way for sustainable cities.”

As detailed in Queen’s Speech 2022 lobby pack, the self-driving sector is predicted to be worth £41.7bn to the UK economy by 2035. The winner takes it all, apparently.

Neil Kennett reviews the CAM Innovators self-driving industry event in London, March 2022

Self-driving event report #1 2022: CAM Innovators living the future mobility dream

As my first industry do in London for two years, the Zenzic Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) Innovators event 2022 was always going to be memorable. Actually, it was much better than that. It was a fantastic day packed with astute analysis and exciting announcements about self-driving in the UK.

It was also a reminder of the shared vision – the belief that we’re on the cusp of something momentous, that this technology can deliver seismic safety and societal benefits. And this is no pipedream. Thanks to a lot of hard work over many years by an array of seriously talented people, there’s a detailed Roadmap of exactly how we’ll get there.

Let’s talk self-driving

For starters, we couldn’t have wished for a more impressive venue – The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) on The Embankment, near Waterloo Bridge. Passing the statue of Michael Faraday, the father of electromagnetism, I bumped into a former colleague before I’d even reached the front door. How nice to see Tom Flisher of Thatcham – a real live human – after all the remote communications of the pandemic.

Hands up, I missed the morning sessions on cyber resilience, vehicle to everything (V2X) and the Interoperable Simulation project. Catching the fast train in to London to attend a real world event is, admittedly, more time consuming and expensive than clicking into a Teams meeting.

We’ll look at the Interoperable Simulation project in more detail another day as it’s a prime example of joined-up thinking, designed to enable seamless testing across the CAM Testbed UK facilities.

The main reason for attending, I thought, was to hear about the latest six UK-based companies selected for Zenzic’s CAM Scale-Up Programme – a business accelerator for almost ready-for-market products and services that can “meet required safety standards and operate in real-world environments”. There’s also the small matter of sharing £500,000 of government funding.

Of the six winners announced in October 2021, four are London-based: geolocation solution provider Albora; Intelligent CCTV designer Exeros; sensor fusion system developer Grayscale AI; and insurance claims visualiser Xtract 360. The other two are: Cambridge-based vulnerable road user safety specialist R4DAR; and Cardiff-based real-time movement experts Route Konnect.

Each will be supported by the UK government – via the Department for Transport’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) – and innovation platform Plug and Play. They’ll get time at the testbeds, benefit from introductions to corporate partners (including Honda, Thales and Vodafone), and gain access to a global network investor platform. Watch this space for in-depth profiles.

The curious among you will have noted the “I thought” a couple of paragraphs ago. Of course, hearing from these exceptional innovators was great, but the best was yet to come.

Wired editor and futurist Jeremy White talks self-driving at the CAM Innovators event 2022
Wired editor and futurist Jeremy White talks self-driving at the CAM Innovators event 2022

Following an entertaining whip through automotive history with Wired editor and futurist Jeremy White – who urged the self-driving industry to “hurry up!” and make connected and automated mobility a reality – we adjourned to the Haslett & Flowers room for networking drinks.

And that’s where the magic happened: Talking shop and shooting the breeze with people I’d just met, connected with on Linkedin, interviewed on Zoom, been on mute with for hours. That’s where you hear the backstories and inspirations, discover obscure but pertinent bits of information, and see early signs of the next big things.

A maelstrom of tech wizards and engineers, CEOs and interns, the odd safety campaigner and motoring hack, most cautious about over-promising but overwhelmingly excited and optimistic about the fast-approaching road transport revolution.

That’s what self-driving industry events are all about. That’s what we’ve been missing.

Tim Dawkins explains why the UK is so well placed to develop self-driving vehicle technologies and regulations.

World Economic Forum: UK provides leadership on autonomous mobility

With its laudable aim “to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the global public interest while upholding the highest standards of governance”, transformational technologies like autonomous vehicles are natural territory for The World Economic Forum. Here, we get the considered views of the Forum’s Automotive & Autonomous Mobility Lead, Tim Dawkins – an Englishman working for the Geneva-based organisation in sunny California.

Tim Dawkins
Tim Dawkins leads a portfolio of automotive and autonomous mobility policy research activities.

Tell us about your path to autonomous vehicles and The World Economic Forum

TD: “I started out studying motorsport engineering at Brunel and my first job out of university was in vehicle security for automotive consulting firm, SBD, helping manufacturers meet Type Approval requirements with anti-theft technologies. When SBD opened an office in North America, I went there, to lead their consulting in autonomous driving. Then, in 2018, I got my MBA and wound-up joining The World Economic Forum.

“Here at the Forum, our mission is greater than to convene events for business leaders, but actually to improve the state of the world. In my domain, that means making sure that the future of transportation is as safe as possible. Broadly, we work with governments and industry leaders to help them understand each other better. In the world of autonomous vehicles that means helping governments understand how the technology is evolving and the creation of new governance structures – which can be used in regulations, standards and assessment criteria.

“A crude analogy is to think about a driving test for the self-driving cars of the future – what does that look like? It’s obviously a lot more nuanced and complex than that, but by being a neutral entity – bringing together the likes of Aurora and Cruise with leading academics and regulators to have focused discussions around autonomous vehicle operation and deployment, or what it means to define a safe autonomous vehicle – is a very effective way of achieving better outcomes for all.

“It’s not just about the advanced technologies of the future, our portfolio also includes road safety research – improving the infrastructure, reducing crashes and fatalities with today’s ADAS technologies, and looking ahead to creating a safer future of mobility with autonomous vehicles.”

With your global perspective on autonomous mobility, how is the UK doing in terms of the government’s stated aim of being “at the forefront of this change”?

TD: “The automotive industry has always been very important to the UK economy, so it is natural that that industry and the government agree on the strategic priority to make the UK an attractive place to develop and test these technologies. We have world-leading engineering talent, universities and research and test facilities within our borders, so it’s shifting the focus from sheet metal and engines over to Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) technologies. Really, it’s a great fit.

“What UK governments have done – I say governments plural, because this has been going on for over 10 years – is to create institutions which spur development. There’s been dedicated funding and research grants not only to grow the CAV ecosystem within the UK, but to encourage international organisations to come and develop in the UK as well.

“What we see now is the result of many years of building the business case, to position the UK as a competitive place to test and develop new technologies. This top-down industrial policy, combined with an open code of practice to facilitate automated vehicle trialling, make the UK a great place to test and develop AVs.

“This ecosystem view is something we study here at the Forum. We recently published a joint paper with The Autonomous – The AV Governance Ecosystem: A Guide for Decision-Makers – which looks at how the standards bodies, alliances and consortia are coming together to develop solutions which will become policy, or at least be used in future governance. You will notice that a lot of UK entities feature very prominently in this study.

“For example, BSI are one of the long-established standards institutions that have been mission-aligned to further CAV mobility, by delivering technical standards and guidance to address governance gaps in the sector, such as the new Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 1881, 1882 and 1883 documents and a vocabulary of CAV terms. Then you have entities such as Zenzic to create the business environment and inform the overall roadmap to making autonomous vehicles a reality, supported by entities such as Innovate UK, and a whole ecosystem of universities and research entities creating a thriving network for innovation.

Please could you comment on the transformative potential of AVs to be, as the WEF’s Mouchka Heller put it, “a necessary first step towards building a better, more equitable and healthier world”?

TD: “One of the things our team like to tackle is how to incentivise these companies to go not just where they can make the most profit, but to provide services to those who most need transportation. This means providing services in areas that are underserved by public transport.

“Think about commuting into London – you drive to the train station, then get onto the TFL network. If you can make that journey more efficient, hopefully more affordable, and accessible, suddenly the economic opportunities that come with commuting into London are open to a greater swathe of people. It’s a very local issue. You have to look at each city and say: where are the areas with the least economic opportunities and how can mobility provide them with greater access to jobs, healthcare and all the things they need?

“Fundamentally, mobility should be considered a human right. It’s not codified as one, but the link between good access to mobility and access to a good future is extremely strong. When we talk to city regulators, for example, they’re very keen to view autonomous vehicles as a way of making their transportation ecosystem more efficient – using AVs to get people onto the existing network, rather than replacing buses or train services.”

That’s certainly opened our eyes to the important work of the World Economic Forum, and we’ll be hearing more from Tim’s colleague, Michelle Avary, Head of Automotive and Autonomous Mobility, at next month’s Reuters event, Car Of The Future 2021.