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.
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.