The Centre for Connected and Autonomous Automotive Research (CCAAR)

Kevin Vincent, Director at the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Automotive Research, says the UK is at the cutting edge of driverless car technology and business models.

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The UK: probably the best self-driving roadmap in the world

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Kevin Vincent, Director at the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Automotive Research (CCAAR), part of Coventry University’s Institute for Future Transport and Cities.

CCAAR brings together expertise from both academia and industry, working in partnership with Horiba Mira’s engineering and test teams (Horiba Mira is a global leader in advanced vehicle engineering, research and product testing). With an impressive 150 Post Graduate Research (PhD) students, the centre plays a key role in addressing the skills gap as the automotive sector presses ahead with connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) development. It’s an important hub for developing new connected and automated mobility products and services, covering everything from design and safety to human factors, such as trust and perception.

Right, let’s start with a big question: How is the UK doing in terms of becoming a world leader in self-driving?

KV: “In partnership with the government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), Zenzic has overseen the cost-effective creation of a complete ecosystem of testbeds. It has also delivered a comprehensive roadmap, probably the best in the world. We have great disruptive companies, such as Aurrigo, who are pushing the boundaries of both the technology and the business model. The UK is absolutely at the cutting edge.”

So far, so good. How do we build from here?

KV: “First, we have to get the right skills in place to push this at pace and scale. There’s an important challenge to understand the near-misses because, even if accident rates are down, we might not be getting the full picture. Growing trust is vital and harmonious regulation is key – from understanding the operational design domains, through safety case development, to vehicle resilience and cybersecurity, it all has to fit together. We have to get the MOT right too. Once you have fully connected vehicles with self-driving features receiving over-the-air (OTA) updates, the current test will not be fit for purpose. You certainly can’t leave it three years from new.”

How long are we talking before Level4 and 5 autonomy is achieved? For definitions please see our glossary.

KV: “In some respects, under tightly controlled domains with vehicles where the fallback position is the system rather than the driver, Level4 is already with us (for example at Heathrow terminal five). For wider adoption, my opinion has changed over the last couple of years. I can now see highly automated vehicles at Level4 in numbers by 2030. There’s still a question mark over whether you go straight to Level4, or use Level3 as a stepping stone. It is important that the customer understands the capability of the vehicle and certainly doesn’t overestimate it, as that is very dangerous. Level5 in terms of anytime anywhere automation is very difficult; I sometimes wonder if it will be possible, and whether people will even want it.”

Which sectors will be first?

KV: “If the industry is smart it will focus on freight, buses, trams and last-mile solutions first. I expect robotaxis will get there about the same time, with more gradual adoption for passenger cars. There will be sea-changes in the automotive industry over the next 10-15 years. Rather than shifting metal, vehicle manufacturers should look to service level agreements like they have in aviation. Farming is interesting because of the defined areas and repetitive nature of the work.”

Is there anything you’d like to expand on?

KV: “Digital twinning is a key part of our activity through CAM Testbed UK projects such as Assured CAV Highway, Assured CAV Parking and Midlands Future Mobility. Because the physical testing of all CAVs, involving billions of driving miles, simply isn’t feasible. It has been recognised as vitally important that digital framework methodologies are developed to create simulated engineering and synthetic environments, with cybersecurity as an overriding consideration. We have to get to the point where you can have confidence in the results, to the extent that it will stand up in a court of law.”

… And there the interview wound-up and I mused on a near miss of my own that very morning. A red BMW flew down my local high street, engine roaring, prompting much shaking of heads. It didn’t get 50 yards before getting stuck in traffic.

“My background is safety,” said Vincent. “Years ago, I thought self-driving was a bit Big Brother, but there are 1,700 road deaths a year in the UK. Think about the vast cost in terms of grief for families and pound notes. Self-driving cars will get you where you want to go, by the most efficient route, and potentially you can relax or read your emails on the way. And the only compromise is not breaking the speed limit.”

As final points go, that’s quite compelling.

For more information: CCAAR is part of Coventry University’s Institute for Future Transport and Cities (IFTC). From accelerating the progression towards zero-carbon transport and developing inclusive design practices to ensuring the safe implementation of autonomous transport solutions, IFTC is central to solving global mobility challenges.

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Author: Neil Kennett

Neil is MD of Featurebank Ltd. He launched in 2019.