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, 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. 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]

UBIPOS Co-Founder, George Ye, on life-saving Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) for self-driving.

On PNT for self-driving: More award winning Forth Road Bridge safety tech

You all know about CAVForth – Vehicle of the Year winner at the inaugural Self-driving Industry Awards – well, it turns out that’s not the only world-beating Forth Road Bridge tech project.

In 2019, the GNSS and Earth Observation for Structural Health Monitoring (GeoSHM) demonstration project, led by UBIPOS UK, won The Engineer’s Collaborate to Innovate (C2I) award for Information, Data & Connectivity for a long-term commercial project designed to consign major bridge disasters to history. A pretty epic goal, we’re sure you’ll agree!

GeoSHM uses multiple space technologies and insitu sensors to provide a real-time picture of bridge movements and stresses. At its core are GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) receivers that pick up positional data via the GPS, Galileo, BeiDou, GLONASS, IRNSS and QZSS global and regional satellite constellations. This monitoring is complemented by interferometric synthetic-aperture radar (InSAR) data provided by Earth Observation (EO) satellites that can track potential subsidence.

George Ye

The GeoSHM project was supported by The University of Nottingham, BRDI, Leica Geosystems, GVL and Transport Scotland – and the technology is now being brought to market by UBIPOS, along with more self-driving-specific services, as Co-Founder and Managing Director, George Ye, explains…

UBIPOS Co-Founder and MD, George Ye, on PNT for self-driving
UBIPOS Co-Founder and MD, George Ye, on PNT for self-driving

GY: “The GeoSHM project on the Forth Road Bridge has run in various incarnations for over a decade now, and we’ve conducted extensive tests on the Humber Bridge and Yangtze River Bridge in China too. We’re confident the tech is proven, so we are moving to commercialise it domestically and globally as the GeoSHM Pro Structural Health Monitoring System, a high-precision solution to optimise maintenance. It has the potential to save many, many lives.

“UBIPOS was formed in 2010 to solve the most challenging and complex sustainable smart city, intelligent mobility and precision agriculture issues. We are now recognised as a world-leading geospatial science company. We have offices in Central London and Milton Keynes, and a subsidiary in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Into self-driving

“We followed the CAVForth project with great interest because we are very into self-driving ourselves. We were closely involved in the European Space Agency’s recent CoDRIVE demonstration project, which aimed to build an intelligent mobility service platform for connected and automated vehicles to advance the transition towards shared mobility. Out of that, we are building towards establishing the ESA CONTACT demonstration project as a game-changing on-board Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) platform, offering cm- and eventually mm-level real-time positioning data for the manufacturers of traditional, hybrid and electric vehicles, as well as intelligent fleet mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) operators.

“To commercialise this ground-breaking product, we are partnering with a number of leading UK organisations and companies your readers will be familiar with – Imperial College London, Cambridge University spin-out, National Highways contractor Kier Highways, globally leading engineering services specialist WSP UK, and the West Midlands Combined Authority. We have been sponsored by Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) and our priority is to get the costs down to enable this unit to be fitted into millions of new cars per year.”

George Ye keynote on self-driving at Cenex 2023

For further info visit

Self-driving faced competition from celebs promoting glitzy tech concepts at CES 2024

Did self-driving steal the show at CES 2024?

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas was always big on self-driving, until last year, when Cleantechnica ran the headline: “CES 2023 Shies Away From Autonomous Driving Technology”. So, did self-driving bounce back to steal the show at CES 2024?

Well, not really. Remote driving made headlines, with Sony and Honda showing off their Afeela EV concept by driving it onto the CES stage using a PlayStation DualSense controller.

However, despite boasting 600+ mobility exhibitors at “one of the world’s largest and fastest growing global auto, mobility and transportation events”, there were precious few self-driving stories.

Techcrunch’s summary of stand-out products covered electrification, drones, AI, chatbots, in-cabin features and hydrogen. Automotive News majored on clean fuel, particularly Bosch Mobility’s new hydrogen combustion engine and Hyundai’s “full-scale hydrogen ambitions”.

Samsung CEO JH Han talks AI at CES 2024 (Credit: Consumer Technology Association)
Samsung CEO JH Han talks AI at CES 2024 (Credit: Consumer Technology Association)

Self-driving presence

That’s not to say there wasn’t a self-driving presence. PIX Moving promoted its partnership with Japan’s TIER IV, offering “white-label EV models” to “further boost the autonomous mobility ecosystem”, including the PIX Robobus…

The self-driving PIX Robobus was on show at CES 2024
The self-driving PIX Robobus was on show at CES 2024

Writing in Forbes, Brad Templeton (formerly of Google’s car team) highlighted a significant announcement from Amazon’s Zoox – they will start providing robotaxi rides in Las Vegas this year.

“While Zoox has been at this for a decade, what’s big is to see them finally entering a real pilot deployment at a time where the industry has lost players like Cruise (at least temporarily) and Argo, and little news has come from Motional, leaving Waymo almost alone in the west,” he said.

Important, but not as glitzy as the “crab drive” capabilities of the Hyundai Mobis concept, as interpreted by hip hop dance influencer Kirsten Dodgen…

Or the MBUX Sound Drive entertainment features from Mercedes-Benz and rapper… at CES 2024 (Credit: Consumer Technology Association) at CES 2024 (Credit: Consumer Technology Association)

Must try harder next year self-driving, or partner with a pop star.

Self-driving features in two flagship BBC programmes – Today and The Royal Institution Christmas Lecture

Great media coverage: The BBC has a very self-driving Christmas 2023

Throughout the five-year history of Cars of the Future, our Hyperbolic Headlines strand has highlighted the most egregious examples of negative self-driving media coverage.

Sometimes it is so biased or plain misinformed as to be quite amusing, but actually it is deadly serious, hugely damaging to consumer confidence.

Hats off, then, to the BBC for delivering not only some of the best consumer reporting we’ve seen to date, but also putting self-driving front and centre of its Christmas programming.

Christmas Lecture on self-driving

For starters, we highly recommend the 2023 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (here on Youtube if you’re outside the UK). Primarily aimed at 11-17 year olds, they are typically enjoyed by families [ok, I was forced to watch them by my dad and now happily do the same to my children!]. 

First televised on the BBC in 1936, the Christmas Lectures were conceived by Michael Faraday as an exciting new way of presenting science to young people. They have been held almost every year since 1825.

Professor Mike Wooldridge (Credit: Royal Institution)
Professor Mike Wooldridge (Credit: Royal Institution)

This year, Mike Wooldridge, Professor of Artificial Intelligence (AI) at the University of Oxford, explored “The dream of driverless cars” with help from our very own Industry Legend, Professor Paul Newman CBE, of Oxa.

This included analysing a real-life incident which occurred while Mike was travelling in Oxa’s test car in Oxford (with a safety driver). A human-driven car drove way too close to them on a roundabout, but the self-driving vehicle handled it smoothly and safely. Cue huge applause from the live teen audience in the theatre.

In any other month we’d have dedicated an entire article to this great show, but the Beeb had another treat in store.

Today on self-driving

On the days in between Christmas and New Year, James May (yes, he of The Grand Tour and formerly Top Gear) assumed guest editorship of the flagship Today news and current affairs programme.

This prestigious role has been filled in the past by Prince Harry, Greta Thunberg, Benjamin Zephaniah, Melinda Gates, Jarvis Cocker, Lewis Hamilton and Professor Stephen Hawking.

One of the three main subjects May chose to investigate, along with tea and hobbies (a man after our own heart), was self-driving. You can catch the highlights from 9.10 to 28.35 in this edit for BBC Sounds.

James May explored self-driving as guest editor of the Today programme
James May explored self-driving as guest editor of the Today programme

Questioning at the outset whether Level 5 self-driving was even possible, he began his research by trying out the Ford BlueCruise hands-free system, which is, as we know, is NOT self-driving.

He then spoke to Dame Wendy Hall, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, who has serious concerns about a “hybrid future” of mixed self-driving and human traffic. So far, May’s scepticism was only being reinforced. Then, as with the Christmas Lecture, Paul Newman came in to bat for self-driving.

He took May for a ride in an Oxa Ford Mondeo test car (with a safety driver) through an industrial estate on the outskirts of Oxford. “So, there we had a speedhump with a pedestrian crossing on top, and it recognised all of that,” admitted May. “This is annoying. This is slightly demolishing my prejudices. I have to say, I really might have to rewrite them a little bit.”

Newman softened the blow, saying: “You’re not wrong in the sense that it’s not immediate, but it’s hard to believe this technology isn’t going to arrive, and it’s hard to believe it isn’t going to be valuable and produce more choices.”

There followed a long interview with Transport Secretary Mark Harper, who explained: “Legislation is going through Parliament at the moment, so hopefully we’ll get that through by the end of 2024. Probably as early as 2026, people will start seeing some elements of these cars that have full self-driving capabilities being rolled-out.

“I’ve seen the technology being used in California, without a safety driver, so it exists, it works. What we’re doing is putting in place the proper legislation so that people can have full confidence in the safety.”

Responding to questions from May, “Why are we doing this? Who benefits?”, Harper said: “First of all, it will improve road safety. We already have very good road safety record in Britain, but there are still several thousand people a year killed on our roads – that could be improved.

“Second, it’s a big economic opportunity for Britain to get a big global share of the market. The final thing is there are a lot of people who currently don’t have the opportunity that many of us drivers take for granted. For example, people who have disabilities – this potentially opens up a whole new world of personal freedom.”

The 2026 quote lead to this BBC online news story – Driverless cars could be on some UK roads by the end of 2026, the transport secretary has told the BBC – which made headlines across the network, prompted articles in virtually every national newspaper, and got picked up internationally.

Is this a watershed moment in terms of UK self-driving media coverage? Time will tell, but it is certainly very welcome. Well done Oxa, and well done the BBC. 

Self-driving level visual realism – a look at rFpro’s new Ray Tracing simulation software

CCAV turn to F1’s rFpro for super realistic self-driving simulation software

A partner in not one but two of the major government-backed self-driving projects announced by CCAV in September 2023, Hampshire-based simulation software specialist rFpro is branching out from its traditional motorsport and automotive roots. MD Peter Daley explains how and why.

Peter Daley, Managing Director of rFpro
Peter Daley, Managing Director of rFpro

PD: “Yes, we’re a consortium partner in two of the Commercialising Connected and Automated Mobility Supply Chain projects – DeepSafe and Sim4CAMSens.

“DeepSafe will develop simulation-based training to help automated vehicles handle edge cases, supporting verification and validation (V&V). Project leader dRISK bring a way of analysing the full range of unexpected driving scenarios, and other partners include Imperial College London, Claytex Services and DG Cities.

“Claytex, with whom we work closely, are also taking the lead in the Sim4CAMSens project, which has a core focus on sensor modelling and evaluation. Other partners here include the University of Warwick, National Physical Laboratory, Syselek, Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult, Oxford RF and Techworkshub.

Self-driving environments

“At rFpro, we’ve been investing in driving simulation technology for years, allowing our customers to develop, test and optimise their vehicles more quickly, efficiently and effectively than they could by relying on real-world testing alone. We create very detailed large scale digital models of real-world environments, and offer high performance software which allows people to interact with those.

rFpro day/night in Tokyo simulation
rFpro day/night in Tokyo simulation

“Our real-time simulation software is used by many leading OEMs and professional motorsports teams (including in F1), in vehicle dynamics, human factors and other use cases.  However, the level of visual realism from images rendered in real-time using rasterising technology still wasn’t high enough to be used on its own for the training and testing of automated vehicle (AV) perception systems. Our new Ray Tracing technology addresses this. 

Self-driving realism

“With Ray Tracing, we can reliably simulate the huge number of reflections created by multiple light sources in a scene, even taking into account the properties of the materials the light is hitting, and apply this to every element in the scene as perceived by a vehicle-mounted sensor moving through it.

“Ray Tracing can be applied to the modelling of cameras, radar and lidar sensors. Our solution accurately replicates things like camera shutter effects, depth of field, lens distortion and light saturation across different weather and light conditions.

“Sensor vibrations coming from the vehicle moving across an uneven road surface are allowed for, as is the effect of motion blur from the relative motion between sensor and objects such as other vehicles, pedestrians or road signs and markings. 

Self-driving level of visual realism: Motion blur
Self-driving level visual realism: Motion blur
Self-driving level of visual realism: camera shutter slant effect
Self-driving level visual realism: Camera shutter slant effect

“In effect, the new technology accurately replicates what cameras and sensors really ‘see’ and presents it in ultra-high definition (UHD). It is a big leap forward and, taken together with rFpro’s renowned real-time solution, unique in the marketplace.

“The creation and use of synthetic test and training data, on a massive scale, to supplement the real-world testing of AV perception and control systems is now realistically achievable. We are excited to be continually finding new ways to support our customers in reaching their goals in this area.”