Smart Transport

Collaboration is key in the race for UK self-driving success

Dr Daniel Ruiz

The UK is the leading location for the development of connected and self-driving vehicles. This is thanks to an investment of almost £500 million from the Government and industry into research and development (R&D) and testing, according to a recent report from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) and analysts Frost & Sullivan.

Several trials have taken place in the country, alongside the introduction of legislation to support the deployment of self-driving vehicles. This work will see the UK generate a predicted £62 billion in annual economic benefits by 2030.

However, while some consider there to be a race to develop an effective self-driving ecosystem, the UK is keen to stress the focus on safety; the quality of self-driven miles is far more important than the number of them. Making sure we get this right is the reason for the substantial investments in the UK’s legislation and testing infrastructure in addition to the R&D projects themselves.

Strong foundations have been laid, but there is still some way to go. The challenges ahead include the improvement of transport and telecoms networks and the crucial issue of cyber security. The UK is well placed to face these, but collaboration is essential to seizing the global self-driving opportunity.

Overcoming challenges

The range and diversity of the UK’s capabilities, facilities and environments position it as the ideal location to overcome barriers associated with connected and self-driving transport.

Take our skills base, for example; the UK has four of the top 10 universities in the world, Europe’s largest digital cluster, a national cyber security capability on a par with the US, and is recognised as a leading nation in the fields of law, insurance and finance. Furthermore, the UK can take pride in its world-class automotive sector, with all the skills, supply chain and infrastructure that entails, and a mobility sector which features progressive local, regional and national transport authorities. And then there is the UK’s growing cluster of disruptive companies at the vanguard of transport innovation.

This is all positive, but why is this race to deploy self-driving vehicles in the UK happening? And what is the reward?

The prize is considerable – the safe achievement of a swathe of societal and economic benefits. However, the race is multi-layered. As well as selling the services which underpin development of these systems, and reaping the benefits from their deployment in the UK, there is also the competition to seize global market share for products and services.

The dash for international market share unlocks economic benefits, while the race for improved mobility unlocks inclusivity, health, safety and productivity. There is a lot to play for, with substantial forecasted economic growth, but more importantly, at least 3,900 lives annually could be saved, and 47,000 serious accidents prevented by the introduction of self-driving vehicles in the UK alone.

As with any competition, the prize won’t be won easily. Challenges ahead include the need for improvement of the UK transport network through connectivity, and the effective leveraging of the wealth of data harvested by vehicle sensors and wider infrastructure. To capitalise on this data, gaps in telecoms networks must be filled. These aren’t just technological gaps, but those related to immature business models, which require development to enable data to be turned into insights so informed decisions can be made.

Connectivity must also be upgraded to enable transport operators and authorities to exercise the control required to carry out their social duty to the public. There is also the question of cyber security, and more specifically how to keep connected self-driving vehicles and their supporting infrastructure secure from damaging cyber-attacks.

Winning together

There have already been around 80 self-driving vehicles in various shapes and forms running in the UK. The diversity of vehicle types and the data harvested from their use has been valuable in pinpointing areas to work on in forthcoming trials of self-driving vehicles and the services they enable. Progress has also been made in the construction of the UK’s self-driving vehicle testing and development infrastructure. Known as Testbed UK, it acts as a connected and self-driving layer on top of existing world-class testing facilities ranging from controlled environments to public roads.

Testbed UK is being overseen by Zenzic (previously Meridian) – the company created by government and industry to lead the UK in accelerating the self-driving revolution. The physical testing centres are being developed by five consortia led by Horiba MIRA, Millbrook Proving Ground, TRL, Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground and Warwick Manufacturing Group.

A sixth Bosch-led consortium is building a marketplace to unlock the value of data. 

These six consortia comprise 28 diverse organisations which include start-ups and SMEs, academic and research institutions, transport authorities and large multinationals such as Cisco, Jaguar Land Rover, Costain and Amey. These stakeholders working together will strengthen an already robust UK-based self-driving ecosystem.

The role of Zenzic is to facilitate critical collaboration between industry, government and academic stakeholders to create further value and deliver economies of scale. Indeed, scale is one of Zenzic’s main considerations.

 The scale necessary to achieve the planned 80% use of self-driving vehicles in urban areas by the 2030s, alongside the consequential 70% reductions in car ownership, is still a long way off. To achieve it, a huge amount of R&D, investment and regulatory change are still needed.

Some say the market should decide the direction of this change and dictate the development of self-driving systems. However, it’s clear that if this approach is chosen, it will result in a sequence of events that cannot be optimal in terms of outcomes or pace. The best route is one that stakeholders from across the sector travel together.

Roadmap for the future

The most effective way to promote this collaborative journey is to mark out the road ahead, and it’s for this reason that Zenzic is leading the cross-sector UK Connected and Automated Mobility Roadmap.

This resource is intended to act as a tool for policy makers, investors and decision makers, setting out the route to achieving widespread adoption of connected and self-driving vehicles. It will detail the developments required to realise connected and automated mobility (CAM) up to 2030 and will be regularly reviewed once initially launched to support its rolling 10-year window beyond 2030.

The UK Connected and Automated Mobility Roadmap considers four main areas – vehicles, infrastructure, services and society. It identifies cross-cutting elements such as data, cyber security and safety. It will also feature ‘golden threads’, which can be followed through and across the themes.  These golden threads are the connections and interdependencies that exist across the whole roadmap, and which will define investment programmes and the fundamental outputs required to make policy and investment decisions.

Objectivity is essential in developing a tool like the UK Connected and Automated Mobility Roadmap. For it to be trusted, the process for its creation has to be open, objective, and collaborative, with a balanced set of contributors from across the sector. To this end, more than 200 organisations are contributing to its development. They come from transport, industry, communications, local government and national government, including Treasury.

And the collation and synthesis of the inputs from all contributors is being carried out by Zenzic, which has a unique position as the nominated champion for connected and self-driving testing and development in the UK. 

So, the goal is to generate social and economic benefits for the UK as rapidly as possible.  This means aligning the whole of the mobility ecosystem around a common set of long term goals and shorter term opportunities.

With the UK Connected and Automated Mobility Roadmap, this is now well under way; and with continued investment by government and industry, the UK is exceptionally well placed to take a sustainable leading role in the global market.

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