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What a transport revolution means for the future

Paul Zanelli, TRL, explores how we make CAVs – and their benefits – a reality.


Transport is often taken for granted, even though it plays an enormous role in modern day life –whether it be commuting to work, the school run or getting out and about to see family and friends. In the last year alone, passengers in London travelled 801 billion kilometres – the highest figure ever recorded.


This kind of cumulative distance would have been unthinkable a few generations ago. But transport has evolved, and the next step appears to be revolution rather than evolution.

What’s driving this change? Simply put, it’s technology. By enabling new ways of delivering goods and getting people from A to B, technology is driving huge changes and presenting opportunities and challenges that aren’t just down to one organisation to tackle.


What can we expect?


Technology companies, car manufacturers, engineering firms and other stakeholders are now testing prototype connected autonomous vehicles (CAV) – commonly known as driverless cars.


The introduction of this technology can have immense repercussions for the automotive industry and can go beyond traditional modes of transport. In turn, this can create new value for consumer tech companies, retailers and advertisers alike with new forms of transportation impacting how we use products/services. Furthermore, it will impact how vehicles integrate with public transport, challenge the driver vs. driverless car dynamic and dramatically change how we design our cities of the future.


The UK’s influence on the automotive sector is indisputable. This is where Smart Mobility Living Lab, London (SMLL) – a co-innovation project led by TRL and powered by government and industry partners including Cisco, Transport for London, DG Cities, Queen Elizabeth Park, Cubic and Loughborough University – plans to carry this reputation forwards into a new age of transportation.


SMLL’s ambition is to create a mutually beneficial ecosystem which will include the public sector, academia, big industry players, start-ups and everyone in between.


At its core, SMLL is a partnership between the industry, public sector and academia, the city and its people. However, its broader ambition is to create a mutually beneficial ecosystem which will include the public sector, academia, big industry players, start-ups and everyone in between.


Addressing issues of the future


While there is uncertainty as to what the future of transport looks like, there is also a sense of anticipation. Estimates around driverless cars vary: some say they are a year away, but almost two-thirds of business leaders are confident that we will see driverless cars on UK roads by 2023 – a scary thought not too long ago.


This uncertainty makes it very difficult for companies or local authorities to plan and invest since there’s little evidence to aid building a business case and the solutions that have arrived to date (Uber, Addison Lee, Mobike, etc.) have created high levels of disruption. Many of the most ground-breaking disruptions in the automotive industry occur where manufacturers are developing models and high-tech specs which wouldn’t look out of place on a Formula One car.

However, it’s autonomy that is really capturing the imagination.


To truly master autonomy and usher in a new era in mobility, the industry must work in collaboration. Successful projects require a strong team from various disciplines, including both the public and private sector, to achieve a common goal. When we think about CAVs, this co-innovation style of approach empowers stakeholders to share knowledge and build infrastructure that meets the demands of both the industry and the general public.


To truly master autonomy and usher in a new era in mobility, the industry must work in collaboration.


The bottom line is that to develop the technology which will allow us to capture the benefits that CAV technology offers, collaboration between public and private sectors is imperative.


Testing and retesting


It’s important that we are not blinded by a vehicle-centric view of the world in a similar way that the horse and carriage industry was blinded when the automobile was introduced all those years ago. We must go beyond this and look at solutions which are system-centric. This is where CAV testbeds must demonstrate the business case of looking beyond the vehicle alone and showcase how to make the jump from feasibility testing to market-ready operating models.


This can be achieved through collecting information on user participation, feedback and data analysis from internal and external stakeholders, using these insights to fine-tune the technologies on trial as well as the business models which will underpin the self-driving revolution.


Furthermore, testbeds need to conduct a review of the roads themselves and how they match up to the needs of potential mobility solutions. The infrastructure developed will be crucial for allowing future transport solutions to reach their full potential, empower vehicles and services to communicate seamlessly and securely, and enable the synchronisation and navigation of CAVs to avoid congestion.


People-centric – the essentials


There’s also an exciting human aspect.


Changing the way people and goods are moved around a city has the potential to make transport safer, cleaner, more affordable and more efficient. While new technology is supporting this goal, registering a positive societal impact on the public must be at the heart of it.


The interaction of technology and humans is arguably the hardest but most fascinating aspect of the autonomous vehicle discussion as people’s experience of their environment – the streets, noise, pollution – is all set to change as society uses technology to improve quality of life.


Furthermore, making roads accessible to a wider pool of people and considering how driverless vehicles may impact groups such as the elderly and disabled, as well as those who rely on public transport and new types of road users (e.g. commuters on electric scooters), is of huge interest to all parties.


The future, now


One thing is guaranteed – the development of testbeds will be a chance to find smarter ways of moving people and things. By bringing more CAVs and related technology onto the roads of London, the future of transport will quickly become a reality, and autonomous vehicles are going to play a big role.


Many aspects of autonomy are still to be worked out. It’s a process of exploration. That’s what makes tests beds, such as SMLL, so important: it’s putting the future to the test.


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