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.

The key to the future of self-driving is education, education, education, says Millbrook’s Stoker.

On track and in virtual space, Millbrook tests cars of the future

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Peter Stoker, Chief Engineer for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles at Millbrook.

Part of CAM Testbed UK, Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedford boasts 700 acres of private roads on which to develop and test connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) technologies. As Chief Engineer, Peter Stoker is right at the forefront of self-driving in the UK.

Peter Stoker
Peter Stoker, Chief Engineer for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles at Millbrook

Please can you outline Millbrook’s work on connected and automated mobility?

“My primary role is to bring focus to two testbeds, our CAV testbed and our 5G testbed. We are not a purpose-built CAV testbed – we have safety, propulsion and conventional vehicle test facilities too – so CAV is something we’ve blended into the existing business.

“For the CAV testbed, we partnered with the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), particularly the Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (RACE) division, to provide a controlled urban environment. We have three open source StreetDrone vehicles and miles of track with targets for very precise measurements, accurate to 1-2cm. We offer safety driver training and also have a simulation environment for driver-in-the-loop and hardware-in-the-loop testing. The whole idea is to fail in private, not in public, and to progress, to evolve out of the testbeds and on to open roads.

“The 5G testbed is a completely separate consortium, backed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). We have 59 masts looking at all types of connectivity and I’d say the millimetre wave at 70GHz is currently the most interesting.”

Millbrook graphic
Millbrook Proving Ground graphic

What major shifts in UK road transport do you expect over the next 10 years? 

“Getting the crystal ball out, I see increased use of connectivity in existing vehicles and some very interesting new use cases – buses connected to city networks, video analytics from cameras, smart ambulances streaming live data, autonomous deliveries on campuses. What I don’t see within 10 years is millions of privately owned driverless cars. That will start in the luxury sector but to begin with it will be more about transporting goods.”

How do you see the testing framework for CAVs developing?

“There’s a lot of simulation in the automotive world – crash testing, fatigue testing, computational fluid dynamics. These days, manufacturers are developing whole vehicles before building a prototype. You have to have a good simulation on a good simulator and there’s an interesting shift that needs to happen on regulation. It’s early days on that, but it’s essential.

“The strength of virtual space is that you can run hundreds of scenarios in machine time – not only set up complicated scenarios that would take days with real cars, but actually speed up the process so it runs faster than real time. The national scenario database is already really good and regulation will move to being a mixture of real and virtual certification – global, European, UK and perhaps even city-specific. We are happy to advise, but don’t set policy.”

What are the biggest challenges in the shift to self-driving and how can these risks be mitigated?

“The key to the future of self-driving is education, education, education – for everyone, the public, vehicle manufacturers, the aftermarket, recovery operators. We have to work on the terminology – autonomous, driverless, CAV, CAM – it’s confusing, even to people who know what they’re talking about.

“At the moment, we’re making it harder to understand, not easier. We’re in a really grey area of transition with different trade names for systems. There’s a lot of groundwork needed to prepare people and, for example, the brilliant website mycardoeswhat.org does a great job of trying to explain it.

“If you get into a hire car, you need to have the right expectation of what it does and what it doesn’t do. If you buy a new car, you should read the manual, but how many people do? Especially with Covid, more cars are being delivered with minimal interaction – it’s a case of “there’s the key, where’s the station?”. Too often, the customer handover just isn’t there.

“How are garages, the aftermarket and the amber light sector going to deal with all this? Basic questions like how do you put it in neutral? ADAS has already led to huge changes in training and skill sets – how to calibrate and monitor them.

“We haven’t talked about over-the-air (OTA) updates, cameras embedded in the tarmac or even electrification – there’s a huge amount of things! How do you learn about them? Hopefully in testing rather than in crash situations.”

For further info, visit www.millbrook.co.uk

Influential designer sees an opportunity to rethink the whole UK transport system.

Designer Priestman questions carmakers and champions elegant public transport

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with award-winning designer Paul Priestman, co-founder of PriestmanGoode

Famous for designing Virgin’s Pendolino train and the BT HomeHub, Paul Priestman is one of the UK’s 500 most influential people, according to The Sunday Times. Here, he describes three exciting connected and automated mobility concepts: 1) The Moving Platforms infrastructure network; 2) A modular electric car for autonomous network transit (ANT) company, Dromos; and 3) The Scooter for Life automated electric scooter.

PP: “I’ve always been interested in mass transit and its relationship with the city. Over 30 years, the company has grown and we’re now involved in all forms of transport, even space travel. We take ideas from one sector and transfer them to others.”

Moving Platforms

PP: “This was an idea that grabbed people’s attention: a tram that can move around a city, then go to the outskirts and join a high speed rail line, without stopping, and take you to another town or even country.

PriestmanGoode Moving Platforms animation

“First and last mile is the logjam. If you can crack that then people won’t need personal transport. The cost of private car ownership is astronomical – you have to park it, maintain it, it depreciates something rotten. But carsharing isn’t working yet because the cars themselves are not designed for it – they are designed to be personal.

“There’s an opportunity to rethink the whole system from purchase through leasing to shared ownership and public for hire models, alongside designing an interior which is appropriate for these variants of use. There are a number of disruptors in the market and just as we’ve seen other markets completely transformed through disruptors such as Uber or Amazon, so there’s an opportunity to look at the car industry in the same way.

“The car industry keeps forcing the same product on us, but the market wants change. For the majority of people, especially in cities, you can’t equate private car ownership with the open road, where you can do what you want, it’s just not realistic, but I understand that there are different needs for rural and urban dwellers.

“London is an example of a great public transport system, although most of our stations were designed 150 years ago and haven’t changed much. I use an app to see when the next bus is due and then walk up to the bus stop. The bus usually arrives on time and we fly down our own lane on the Euston Road, passing all the cars stuck in traffic.”

Dromos ANT

PP: “The system is important, not just the vehicle. It is elegant public transport designed around the passenger – the first autonomous system to deliver mass transit, and the infrastructure belongs to the city. The car we designed is half the width of a normal car, with space for two or three people, and it can be steam cleaned. It’s a personal vehicle which will come to you, wherever you are, and then join a dedicated track, becoming almost like a train, before peeling off to complete the journey.”

PriestmanGoode modular electric car for Dromos
PriestmanGoode modular electric car for Dromos

At this point, Priestman refers to our interview with the arch critic of driverless cars, Christian Wolmar. PP: “The problem with some self-driving concepts is you still get traffic jams full of cars with no one in them. A lot of that congestion is caused by delivery vehicles – every time you buy something online you’re causing a traffic jam. Once you have a vehicle which has a dedicated highway you’re free from other traffic and can travel faster and closer together.”

Scooter for Life

PP: “The Scooter for Life was a special commission for the New Old exhibition at the Design Museum. We gave it three wheels, so it doesn’t fall over, and a basket for your bag or dog. It’s electric and can also be automated, so there’s a take-me-home button. People immediately think of autonomous vehicles as being car-sized, but I think they might be smaller. The only reason cars were that size in the first place was to fit in the huge engine, which you no longer need.

PriestmanGoode Scooter for Life
PriestmanGoode Scooter for Life

“People taking the tube for only a stop or two really slow things down, whereas bikes, scooters and walking mean you see more of the city. It’s a bit reclaim the streets and reminds me of the Walklines we designed years ago. The Covid situation, terrible as it is, has shown us a less congested London –an increase in the use of bikes and walking, a city moving in a much healthier way. For me, that’s much more beautiful.”

For more on these designs, and a prototype Hyperloop passenger capsule, visit priestmangoode.com.

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

Must-see: Mercedes Vision Urbanetic concept gets two million views on YouTube

A short film by Mercedes-Benz about its Vision Urbanetic mobility concept has been viewed over two million times on YouTube.

The 1min 38sec video published last September showcases a self-driving, electrically-powered chassis with switchable bodies.

It can be used as a ride-sharing vehicle with space for up to 12 passengers, or as a goods transporter with space for 10 pallets.

Leaping off the drawing board, a scale version of the car was on display at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Mercedes says it can reduce traffic flows, take the pressure off strained city infrastructures and contribute to an improved quality of urban life.