Self-driving on the grid in Abu Dhabi in April 2024

2024 Start For New Self-driving Race Series

A highlight of this week’s Gitex tech conference in Dubai was the unveiling of the 185mph Dallara Super Formula SF23 self-driving car race, to be used in the new Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League (A2RL).

10 rival teams with cars from the legendary Italian manufacturer will take to the grid for the first time on 28 April at the Yas Marina Circuit, competing for a tasty £1.85m prize pot.

The eye-catching launch video promised: “To push the boundaries of what is possible. To compete on speed, on reaction, on agility. Not just to master the perfect lap, but to redefine it.”

A2RL self-driving race series launch video, Oct 2023

A2RL says it has brought together teams of scientists, coders and developers from around the world with the aim of reshaping the future of mobility through extreme sports – to stress-test autonomous vehicles on the racetrack for safety on our roads.

Self-driving racing

As Tom McCarthy, Executive Director of Aspire, the organisation behind the project, explains in the video interview below: “We believe that if consumers gain confidence then we will see cutting-edge research, such as that being undertaken here in Abu Dhabi, taking its place in production cars sooner rather than later.”

A2RL’s Tom McCarthy at Gitex 2023

This isn’t the first attempt to get a self-driving race series off the ground. In May last year, we reported on the demise of Roborace, established way back in 2015.

Around the same time, we reported on AB Dynamics’ 130mph self-driving crash test at the Talladega Superspeedway and Indy Autonomous Challenge winner PoliMOVE setting a new world speed record for a self-driving vehicle, 192.2mph at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

As Sir Stirling Moss told me many years ago [how’s that for a name drop?!], autosport has always played a vital role in developing new technologies.

A2RL plan to go off-road too, with self-driving dune buggy and drone races, all intended to advance autonomy. We at Cars of the Future will definitely be watching.

For further info visit

More joint UK government and industry funding for self-driving feasibility studies…

Who needs HS2? CCAV £1.3m feasibility cash for six UK self-driving projects

On 9 October, as the fallout from the cancellation of HS2 continued, The Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) quietly announced the recipients of £1.3m in joint government and industry funding “to study the feasibility of self-driving mass transit solutions across the UK”.

The following six projects – backed via CCAV’s Commercialising Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) programme – will explore how self-driving technology can be cheaper, emit less carbon, and increase transport safety and security…

UK self-driving projects

Autonomous Healthlink, in Northumberland, will study the feasibility of a zero emission self-driving system on a segregated route between Seaton Delaval Station and the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington. The lead partner is Milestone Transport Planning Ltd, with Dromos Mobility Ltd, Pegasus Planning Group Ltd and Newcastle University. Grant: £155,911.

Blythe Rural Automated Vehicle Operations, in the West Midlands, will study the feasibility of a shuttle service within the Midlands Future Mobility initiative, connecting Blythe Valley Business Park to the UK Central Hub (Arden Cross HS2 interchange, Birmingham International Airport and Railway station). The lead partner is Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, with Aurrigo, Syselek (UK) Ltd, Liftango Ltd, ZF Services UK Ltd, West Midlands Combined Authority, National Highways and WMG. Grant: £197,664.

Commercialising Connected and Automated Vehicle Services in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, will study the commercial potential of a self-driving vehicle linking Inverness College University of the Highlands and Islands Campus to key locations in Inverness and connect ferry passengers to public transport at Uig Pier on the Isle of Skye. The lead partner is University of Glasgow, with Aurrigo, The Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership, Darwin Innovation Group Ltd and Highland Country Buses Ltd. Grant: £160,443.

Dromos Connected and Automated System, in Bolton, will study the feasibility of an on-demand, 24/7 self-driving system running on a decommissioned railway corridor connecting the Bolton Transport Interchange to the Royal Bolton Hospital. It will consider the potential to expand and integrate the service through infrastructure and mobility projects. The lead partner is Dromos Mobility Ltd, with Transport for Greater Manchester Ltd and Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council. Grant: £199,760.

HertsLynx Connected and Automated Mobility On-Demand, in Hertfordshire, will study a self-driving service using on-demand responsive transport technology serving passengers in the Maylands Business Park region. In particular, the routes will connect Maylands to Harpenden Station and St Albans. The lead partner is Sustainicity Ltd, with Siemens Mobility, University of Hertfordshire and Hertfordshire County Council. Grant: £115,748.

Integrated Mixed Traffic Mobility for Hertfordshire Essex Rapid Transit, also in Hertfordshire, extends an existing study examining the feasibility of “Dedicated Driverless Spaces” for articulated buses running on segregated routes and public roads. Notably, the route will link Watford and St Albans town centres. The lead partner is City Science Corporation Ltd, with StreetDrone, Hertfordshire County Council and England’s Economic Heartland. Grant: £134,984.

With the Prime Minister helpfully clarifying that a list of projects potentially in line for some of the HS2 cash was purely “illustrative”, perhaps some of these exciting self-driving projects will actually happen… and deliver incredible value for money.

Self-driving Industry Awards (#SDIA23) deadline extended to 23 October as date for presentation ceremony confirmed.

Entry deadline for Self-driving Industry Awards 2023 extended

Celebrating excellence in automated mobility, in the UK and internationally, entries are open now for the inaugural Self-driving Industry Awards.

Presented by Cars of the Future, the Self-driving Industry Awards 2023 cover all aspects of this exciting and fast-growing ecosystem.

From impressive engineering and design developments, to essential work in areas such as insurance and public trust, peer recognition plays an important part, with all entrants nominating a self-driving Person of the Year and Vehicle of the Year.

Self-driving Industry Awards spokesperson said: “If you’ve made a telling contribution to self-driving – launched the world’s best robotaxi or last-mile delivery robot, made a technological leap, or provided incredible thought leadership – then you should be entering these awards.”

The deadline for entries is now 5pm UK-time on Monday 23 October 2023, with all shortlisted candidates receiving an invitation to the Awards ceremony (in the UK on Friday 17 November).

For further info, including a full list of the award categories, please visit #SDIA23

Self-Driving All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) meets at House of Commons to discuss safety and public perception.

Self-Driving APPG on safety and public perception

We were delighted to be invited to the Self-Driving All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) workshop on “Safety and Public Perception” at the House of Commons on Monday (18 Sep 2023).

Chaired by Ben Everitt, MP for self-driving hotspot Milton Keynes North, ably assisted by Lord Borwick, former long-serving chief exec of London taxi manufacturer, Manganese Bronze, it invited expert opinions on important questions including:

  • What does a robust and credible safety framework for self-driving vehicles look like?
  • What are the implications of AI safety policy for the self-driving vehicle sector?
  • How will the roll-out of self-driving vehicles affect pedestrians and other road users?
  • What can the industry do to improve public understanding of self-driving vehicles?
  • How can Government support the industry to highlight the benefits of self-driving vehicles?
Self-Driving APPG parliamentarians
Self-Driving APPG parliamentarians: Ben Everitt MP and Lord (Jamie) Borwick

Self-driving experts

For this second workshop (the first, on “Economy and Environment”, having taken place the previous week), the participants included many names familiar to Cars of the Future readers: Doug Jenkins of AXA, Jessica Uguccioni of the Law Commission and CCAV, Nick Fleming of BSI, Professor Siddartha Khastgir of the University of Warwick, Steve Gooding of the RAC Foundation, Mark Cracknell of Zenzic, and Dr Nick Reed of Reed Mobility, along with representatives from Wayve, Burges Salmon, WSP, National Highways, Waymo and Hanbury Strategy.

Emphasising that the four leading causes of road traffic accidents (RTAs) are driver error, reckless behaviour, disobeying traffic laws and driver impairment, it set out to explore public perceptions around safety, and asked how self-driving can reduce casualties as part of a wider smart transport system.

Without wishing to pre-empt the findings, which will inform an independent policy report, three interesting opinions were: 1) that people will quickly become bored with the protest action of ‘coning’, 2) that more ‘friendly-looking’ vehicle design would be helpful, and 3) that legislation to clarify liability would be very welcome – perhaps in the next King’s Speech?

Please note, the APPG’s deadline for written evidence on the economic, environmental and safety benefits of self-driving vehicles is this Friday (22nd Sep 2023).

For further info, visit the Self-Driving APPG website.


Self-driving safety on upward curve – key finding from IDTechEx report Autonomous Cars, Robotaxis & Sensors 2024-2044

Study finds some 2022 self-driving cars safer than average human driver

A new industry report by Cambridge-based independent market research provider, IDTechEx, claims that “Autonomous vehicles will soon be safer than humans, some already are”.

Released on 12 September 2023, the “Autonomous Cars, Robotaxis & Sensors 2024-2044” report was authored by Dr James Jeffs, Senior Technology Analyst at IDTechEx.

Dr James Jeffs, Senior Technology Analyst at IDTechEx.
Dr James Jeffs, Senior Technology Analyst at IDTechEx.

Self-driving in California

Predicting rapid growth in the number of cities that will offer robotaxi services in the next few years, it highlights the issue of ‘coning’ in San Francisco – where protestors attempt to render self-driving cars inoperable by placing a traffic cone on the bonnet.

There are obvious parallels with the recent attacks on Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) cameras in London.

The most interesting element of the research, however, is the key metric that IDTechEx uses to monitor autonomous vehicle safety: miles per disengagement.

First, it sets out the testing miles submitted by the top testing companies – including Waymo, Cruise, Pony AI, Zoox and Nuro – in California between 2015 and 2022.

IDTechEx: self-driving testing miles in California
IDTechEx: self-driving testing miles in California

It then analyses the miles per disengagement, measuring how frequently the autonomous vehicle safety driver needs to intervene with the autonomous system.

Safety driver interventions

IDTechEx track self-driving vehicle safety driver interventions
IDTechEx track self-driving vehicle safety driver interventions

In 2022, Cruise led when it came to disengagement. During its 863,000 miles of testing, safety drivers only needed to intervene nine times. What’s more, IDTechEx concluded that four of these nine disengagements were caused by the poor performance of other nearby drivers.

The study then applies a slightly spurious method – assuming that each disengagement would lead to a collision… and comparing this to the average US human driver performance of approx. 200,000 miles between collisions – in order to justify the ‘some AVs are already better than humans’ claim.

It isn’t an exact science, but the important point stands. Self-driving cars are getting safer year-on-year.

New ISO 34503:2023 international standard on safe self-driving trials.

UK plays instrumental role in 1st international standard for safe self-driving

Experts from the UK have been instrumental in developing the very first international standard for the safe operation of self-driving vehicles, the new ISO 34503:2023.

Based on BSI PAS 1883, developed by the UK National Standards Body, it uses the Operational Design Domain (ODD) concept championed by Professor Siddartha Khastgir, of WMG at the University of Warwick.

As covered extensively on Cars of the Future, the ODD is basically a definition of where a self-driving vehicle is going to operate.

Self-driving standard

The new ISO standard (full title: Road Vehicles — Test scenarios for automated driving systems — Specification for operational design domain) provides specifications for three key categories:

  • Scenery elements: non-movable elements e.g. roads, bridges, traffic lights
  • Environment conditions: weather and other atmospheric conditions
  • Dynamic elements: all movable objects and actors

The ISO website explains that the document is mainly applicable to level 3 and level 4 automated driving systems (ADS). It is primarily intended to be used by organisations conducting trials, testing and commercial deployment, and may also be of interest to insurers, regulators, service providers, national, local and regional governments.

Professor Khastgir praised the work of partners from around the world, including the US, Germany, Japan, China, France, Austria, Canada, Israel, Sweden, Finland, South Korea and Australia.

“Successful standardisation efforts are only possible with true international collaboration,” he said. “I am grateful to experts from various countries worldwide who have engaged and contributed actively to this standard.”

ISO members working on safe self-driving, 2023
ISO members working on safe self-driving, 2023

Guiding safe self-driving

Nick Fleming, Associate Director of Transport and Mobility at BSI, said: “It’s exciting to see the launch of this new international standard, given the potential benefits that can be realised by testing automated vehicles so they can operate safely on our roads.

“This new ISO standard has been inspired by the UK document, BSI PAS 1883:2020, the first taxonomy for ODDs developed in conjunction with UK experts and the government’s Centre for Connected and Automated Vehicles.

“BSI would like to thank Professor Khastgir for his effort in helping to lead this work at the international level which, along with PAS 1883, shows the leadership the UK is having in the development of global standardisation for self-driving vehicles.”

Sarah Gates, Director of Public Policy at Wayve, added: “The concept of ODDs is the basis of deploying self-driving vehicles safely. A common way of describing ODDs across industry is therefore vital for creating the highest safety standards, bolstering public trust and supporting the regulatory frameworks required to commercially deploy self-driving technology on a global scale.”

This wider adoption of the ODD is a big win for UK thought leadership, with US-based self-driving expert, Philip Koopman, author of the book “How Safe Is Safe Enough?”, recently describing us as “the adults in the room” when it comes to regulation.

DfT and CCAV publish two new reports on self-driving public engagement

Not 1 but 2 DfT reports on The Great Self-Driving Exploration

In summer 2023, The Department for Transport (DfT) and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) published two new reports on The Great Self-Driving Exploration.

Last year, in partnership with Thinks Insight & Strategy, University College London (UCL) and Aurrigo, they held a series of large-scale public engagement events in areas of the country where there had previously been little or no engagement with self-driving vehicles.

The aim was to study public perceptions towards, and effective communication about, self-driving. We ran a story at the time on The Great Self-Driving Exploration in Taunton.

DfT Great Self-Driving Exploration report - citizen view of self-driving technology, 2023
DfT Great Self-Driving Exploration report – citizen view of self-driving technology, 2023

Self-driving citizen view

The first report, “A citizen view of self-driving technology in future transport systems”, largely analysed the responses from a “high exposure audience” of 177 participants, who took part in a three-week programme of “deliberative engagement”, including pre- and post-ride surveys.

Further feedback came from “medium exposure” and “low exposure” audiences, of 450 and 250 participants respectively.

In workshops, the high exposure participants were shown educational videos on various aspects of self-driving. They featured, among others, Rebecca Posner of CCAV, Camilla Fowler of Oxbotica (now Oxa), Siddartha Khastgir of WMG, Jessica Uguccioni of the Law Commission, Dr Nick Reed of Reed Mobility, Brian Matthews of Milton Keynes Council, Steve Gooding of the RAC Foundation, Tom Cohen of the University of Westminster, David Sharp of Ocado, Martin Griffiths of Stagecoach Group, Colin Robertson of Alexander Dennis, Jim Hutchinson of Fusion Processing, and Waymo – familiar names to regular Cars of the Future readers.

The participants were then asked to design an advert to describe self-driving vehicles (SDVs) to the public. As an aside, being pedants, we note a battle with software-defined vehicles for the SDV acronym. Anyway…

The report found: “Given the generally positive attitude towards SDVs [self-driving vehicles], the information campaigns and adverts designed by participants overwhelmingly focused on communicating the potential benefits of introducing SDVs rather than any of their concerns.

“Broadly speaking, to effectively improve awareness of SDVs it was seen as necessary to communicate their advantages over and above traditional human-driven vehicles.

“Using information campaigns and adverts to normalise the concept of SDVs, either as privately owned vehicles or as part of shared or public transport provision, was considered important.”

Familiarity with self-driving increased significantly among the high exposure participants, with 68% saying they knew ‘a fair amount’ by the end of the research, compared to just 11% at the outset.

In particular, these participants felt they had a better understanding of the ‘rules’ for using self-driving vehicles. However, there were still areas of potential confusion, such as what level of autonomy is currently legal on UK roads.

DfT Great Self-Driving Exploration report - wordcloud
DfT Great Self-Driving Exploration report – wordcloud

In a welcome repeat of the PAVE findings in America – “we like to put on demonstration events to demystify the technology and the good news is that knowledge and experience change attitudes”- participant ‘comfort’ increased during The Great Self-Driving Exploration process, both in terms of using self-driving vehicles and sharing roads with them.

As to how best to communicate with the public, the research concluded that the top five key themes are:

  1. Safety – both improved road safety and reassurance on self-driving vehicle safety.
  2. Reliability and security – especially the balancing of AI technology and human backup.
  3. Accessibility – promoting mobility for all.
  4. Shared – improved public transport and the environmental benefits of fewer private car journeys.
  5. Costs – being cheaper than the existing options is a powerful message.

Self-driving emotional responses

DfT Great Self-Driving Exploration report - Understanding emotional responses to self-driving, 2023
DfT Great Self-Driving Exploration report – Understanding emotional responses to self-driving, 2023

The second, more technical, report, “Understanding emotional responses to self-driving vehicles: Findings from the EEG study”, measured excitement and stress using an electrophysiological process to record participants’ brain activity. The headlines were…

On “medium to high levels of Engagement, Excitement and Interest”, that participants “have a degree of affinity with the task and tended to have more positive emotional responses to the technology.”

On “lower scores for Focus, Stress and Relaxation”, that participants “were relatively comfortable with the experience despite its novelty”.

And “as participants become more familiar with the technology the more immediate and emotional reactions, both positive or negative subside”.

Interestingly, males tended to show higher levels of ‘Excitement’ than females when on the shuttle, while the opposite was seen for the pod.

The report concluded: “These differences will have implications on both engineering and policy choices to help mitigate certain emotional states if self-driving vehicles become more widespread. The changes in emotional state observed throughout a journey also suggest the value of providing members of the public with the opportunity to trial the technology.”

Together, these two reports provide important insights into the expectations of the UK public in relation to self-driving – a valuable contribution to this fast-growing ecosystem.

43 British companies win CCAV funding for self-driving supply chain projects.

Self-driving gets healthy slice of new £50m funding for cutting edge UK manufacturing

On 4 September 2023, the UK government announced the recipients of £50m in funding “to cement the UK as the best location in the world to manufacture”. The winners included several major self-driving projects.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, said: “From farm tractors fuelled by hydrogen to rapid-charge first responder motorcycles, these projects receiving funding today show we are not short of innovators in this country.

“By supporting growth in the industries of the future, including through better regulation, we are delivering on our plan to get the economy growing and make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business.”

Self-driving winners

In addition to 12 mainly clean fuel-related projects to be funded via the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC), the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) announced £18.5m in joint government and industry funding for 13 new self-driving projects.

Designed to address critical technology gaps, enhance safety and security, improve performance and reliability, and create scalable opportunities both domestically and globally, these connected and automated mobility (CAM) supply chain projects will be delivered in partnership with Zenzic and Innovate UK.

The winning projects are, in alphabetical order:

·       AIM-DBW

·       Autonomous Cargo

·       CERTUS

·       DeepSafe

·       DriveSafeAI

·       Driven By Sound

·       evolvAD

·       High-Performance Imaging Radar (HPIR)

·       Photonic Inertial Sensors for Automotive (PISA)

·       Sim4CAMSens

·       StreetCAV

·       Systems for Autonomy in Fail Operational Environments (SAFE)

·       Torque Overlay Automated Steering Technology (TOAST)

Decarbonisation and Technology Minister, Jesse Norman MP, commented: “Self-driving vehicles have the potential to transform how we get around, making journeys safer, more convenient and more accessible while also creating skilled jobs. These grant winners underline how the UK is at the cutting edge in developing automated technologies that are not only innovative but have safety at their heart.”

Meanwhile, Minister for Industry and Economic Security, Nusrat Ghani MP, visited Wayve, one of the 43 British companies involved, yesterday (5 September). “The automotive industry will go through a self-drive revolution = huge economic growth & new jobs,” she said on Twitter (X). “We are supporting AI tech firms in leading the way.”

The headline facts and figures for each winning project are as follows:

AIM-DBW – lead partner Aim Technologies, with TRL – to deliver a universal drive-by-wire system to enable the automation of throttle, steering, braking and gears. Grant: £400,000.

Autonomous Cargo – lead partner Aurrigo, with UPS – to create a self-driving 7.5 tonne dolly for airside cargo movements, along with a simulation tool. Grant: £480,000.

Certus – lead partners Horiba Mira, with Coventry University, Connected Places Catapult, Polestar Automotive UK, and IPG Automotive UK – to provide a verification and validation (V&V) test requirements toolset for an automated driving system (ADS). Grant: £1.5m.

DeepSafe – lead partner, with Imperial College London, Claytex Services, DG Cities, and rFpro – to support the V&V of ADSs through industry-critical data and a next-generation simulation toolchain. Grant: £2m.

DriveSafeAI – lead partner Wayve Technologies, with University of Warwick – to develop a safety assurance framework for the safe deployment of AI in self-driving technology across all driving domains. Grant: £1.9m

Driven By Sound – lead partner Calyo, with Baro Vehicles – is a collaborative initiative to create a robust navigation system for automated vehicles, with a particular emphasis on adverse weather handling. Grant: £910,000.

evolvAD – lead partner Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK, with TRL, Humanising Autonomy, Connected Places Catapult, and SBD Automotive – to develop an AV capable of safely driving in residential, urban and rural environments. Grant: £2.3m.

High-Performance Imaging Radar (HPIR) – lead partner Aptcore, with Garfield Microelectronics, Plextek Services, and Cambridge Sensoriis – aims to develop a high-performance imaging radar specifically for AVs. Grant: £1.8m.

Photonic Inertial Sensors for Automotive (PISA) – lead partner Zero Point Motion, with WAE Technologies, University of the West of England, and the Royal Institute of Navigation – to leverage Micro Electromechanical Systems (MEMS), Photonic Integrated Circuits (PICs), and low-cost laser/detectors to develop advanced position and navigation sensors. Grant: £1.4m.

Sim4CAMSens – lead partner Claytex Services, with University of Warwick, National Physical Laboratory, Syselek (UK), Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult, rFpro, Oxford RF Solutions, and Techworkshub – to enable accurate representation of ADS sensors in simulation. Grant: £2m.

StreetCAV – lead partner Smart City Consultancy, with Dell Corporation, Milton Keynes Borough Council, and Ohmio UK – will create a ‘plug-and-play’ roadside connectivity solution for self-driving shuttles, robots and drone-based services. Grant: £1.8m.

Systems for Autonomy in Fail Operational Environments (SAFE) – lead partner Streetdrone, with Alcon Components, University Of Surrey, and Chassis Autonomy – will develop a fail operational drive-by-wire technology platform to enable safe SAE Level 4 autonomy. Grant: £1.2m.

Torque Overlay Automated Steering Technology (TOAST) – lead partners Titan Motorsport & Automotive Engineering, with Alexander Dennis, and TRL – will develop a modular dual redundant steer-by-wire system for heavily automated and electric vehicles. Grant: £760,000.

Quick on the draw with a press release, Alex Kendall, CEO of Wayve, said: “Leveraging AI, we have the chance to bring the benefits of self-driving vehicles to everyone’s door. But first, securing trust in AI is paramount. DriveSafeAI will give the public and policymakers confidence in this technology, which has the potential to revolutionise transport.”

Wayve self-driving car, 2023
Wayve self-driving car, 2023

Professor Siddartha Khastgir, Head of Verification & Validation at WMG, added: “AI and particularly embodied AIs like self-driving vehicles is one of the biggest disruptors for society. Deploying this technology safely is essential.”

Congratulations to all, particularly TOAST for the best acronym, and we will follow all of these exciting projects with great interest.

Introducing the inaugural Self-driving Industry Awards…

Celebrate automated mobility! Entries open now for the Self-driving Industry Awards 2023

Celebrating excellence in automated mobility, in the UK and internationally, entries are open now for the inaugural Self-driving Industry Awards.

Presented by Cars of the Future, the Self-driving Industry Awards 2023 cover all aspects of this exciting and fast-growing ecosystem.

From impressive engineering and design developments, to essential work in areas such as insurance and public trust, peer recognition plays an important part, with all entrants nominating a self-driving Person of the Year and Vehicle of the Year.

A Self-driving Industry Awards spokesperson said: “If you’ve made a telling contribution to self-driving – launched the world’s best robotaxi or last-mile delivery robot, made a technological leap, or provided incredible thought leadership – then you should be entering these awards.”

The deadline for entries is 5pm UK-time on Friday 29 September 2023, with all shortlisted candidates receiving an invitation to the Awards ceremony in November.

For further info, including a full list of the award categories, please visit #SDIA23

Self-driving expert Professor Siddartha Khastgir on the Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems report

Cross-domain safety: What do self-driving and automated air and sea transport have in common?

WMG at the University of Warwick, home of The National Automotive Innovation Centre, has reached for the sky (and sea) with ground-breaking research into safe automated land, air and marine mobility.

In early 2022, Professor Siddartha Khastgir, Head of Verification & Validation at WMG, reached out to experts in other automated transport sectors, to see if there were opportunities to learn from each other to unblock the safety challenges in the self-driving industry.

38 organisations got involved, including self-driving big-hitters Wayve, Oxa (formerly Oxbotica), Aurrigo, and Imperium Drive, along with a host of UK universities and regulatory bodies. All gave their time freely for this mission.

The result is the Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems report, published in March 2023.

Self-driving insights: The Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems report, March 2023.
Self-driving insights: The Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems report, March 2023.

“The economic potential of the global automated transport ecosystem is projected to reach over £750 billion by 2035, with a UK market share of approximately 6% representing £42 billion and creating up to 38,000 new jobs,” the report begins – breath-taking figures.

“However, safety remains the biggest challenge for commercialisation of automated transport systems (ATS). Safety and the corresponding perceived safety of ATS technology has a direct correlation with the development of trust and acceptance in the technology.”

Quite right, as Professor Khastgir knows better than perhaps anyone. Having started his career with Tata Motors in India (having taken part in the Formula Student engineering competition during his undergraduate days at IIT Kharagpur), he worked with OEMs in Germany for FEV, before doing a PhD in trust in automation and test methodologies for automated driving systems at WMG.

With in-depth knowledge of both the engineering challenges and the human factors, he has led and helped draft many of the UK and international standards around Operational Design Domains (ODDs). He’s also a member of the Department for Transport (DfT) Science Advisory Council and a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellow.

NK: How did this cross-industry self-driving initiative come about?

SK: “After my PhD, I established a team on verification and validation at WMG, looking at how to prove that self-driving cars are safe. We spent four or five years working on a methodology which would be scalable. At that time, we were still very car focused. The methodology we created is underpinned by the ODD concept and its definition.

“We started sharing the ODD concept with different players in the self-driving ecosystem – industry players and regulators. We had a lot of discussions with the DfT, the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA), the European Commission, and also industry. I was very humbled by the response, to the extent that our framework is actually in the EU automated driving legislation that was published last year.

“We felt that, because of the framework’s scalability, it could be translated into aviation and maritime autonomy. If you look at the ODD concept and detach it from self-driving cars, from a first principles level, it can work in other sectors. So, we started liaising with different stakeholders in automated marine and aviation.

“We took what we did in self-driving, abstracted it, and identified things that we thought would be similar and different. We then held an event in London, in March last year, where we presented it to stakeholders from all the sectors. It seemed to capture the imagination – everybody wanted to come on this journey with us. All along, we knew self-driving would also benefit from learning from aviation and maritime.

“Getting people from all these different domains into the same room – people willing to collaborate and with a genuine appetite to learn – is no mean feat, a big success for WMG.”

NK: Tell us about the report itself and the main findings…

SK: “We identified three areas that the safety assurance for autonomous solutions ecosystem really needs help with. The first was a safety framework and metrics, the second was virtual test environments (simulations), and the third was communicating safety. The last one in particular – societal acceptance of this technology – is underappreciated in most discussions.

“We urged all stakeholders – developers, manufacturers, fleet service providers, regulators and policymakers – to work together to demonstrate and communicate safety, rather than competing using safety as a selling point, a philosophy we are championing.

“We created three working parties and over the last year they’ve held 10 workshops, equating to over 200 person days of work. That led to the Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems report, which we authored, capturing all the inputs from these workshops. We launched it in March this year, and it was very well received, not only in the UK, but internationally.

“We’ve had a lot of feedback and the next step is to implement the recommendations detailed in the executive summary, covering themes of evaluating safety and communicating safety. We have already started with the implementation phase. Some of the most interesting feedback was on communicating safety. People felt that this is not talked about enough. Communicating safety is a very important USP of the work we’re doing, considering safety more holistically, not just as an engineering subject.

“Both of these concepts – evaluating safety and communicating safety – remain true for land, aviation and maritime autonomy applications. But not everything is similar. For validation of your simulation, a classic difference is the qualifying thresholds between real-world and virtual world, which would be different for each sector. However, a lot of the processes and approaches used would be common, but those kinds of subtleties are important.”

NK: How will the report’s recommendations be implemented?

SK: “At the report launch event, we had the chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee, Greg Clark, the chair of the Transport Select Committee, Iain Stewart, and the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Louise Haigh, as well as high level speakers from many different organisations.

MPs on the Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems panel
MPs at the Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems report launch

“A major part of our work at WMG, apart from the research and working with industry, is driving impact for our research through leading and influencing the international standards and regulation. We are involved with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) standards, and I am part of the discussions at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) forum. It is all about translating strong research evidence into regulations, because I strongly believe that regulations can be an enabler for automated technology.”

The MP’s notable commitments can be seen in this video:

Self-driving safety

Iain Stewart, MP for self-driving hotbed Milton Keynes South, said: “This technology is coming. We have to get it right. Together, we will be able to come up with that sensible set of world-leading regulations.”

Greg Clark, MP for Royal Tunbridge Wells, said: “In terms of the impacts of this programme, which are already considerable, Iain and myself, and our members, will make sure that government is aware of, and takes up, the requirements of the recommendations that are made.”

Louise Haigh, MP for Sheffield Heeley, said: “There’s a real economic opportunity in this type of innovation – from enhancing wellbeing and improving quality of life, through to reducing carbon emissions, the potential is there.”

There are further telling national and international contributions from Dr Biagio Ciuffo, Smart Mobility Project Portfolio Leader at the European Commission Joint Research Centre, Tony Boylen, Principal Specialist in Assurance of Autonomy at Lloyd’s Register, Michael Gadd, Head of Office of Airworthiness at Blue Bear Systems Research, Tim Johnson, Policy Director at Civil Aviation Authority, Dr Genovefa Kefalidou, Lecturer in Human-Computer Interaction at University of Leicester, and Nick Fleming, Associate Director of Transport & Mobility at BSI, amongst many others.

The full Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems report (March 2023) can be found here.