Smart Transport

Rise of greener, leaner mobility won’t be thrown off course

Aerial view of the Port of Dover

Development of the technology underpinning connected and automated mobility has not been badly disrupted by Covid-19. Now we must seek to push on, says Daniel Ruiz.

When Zenzic launched the UK Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) Roadmap to 2030 in late 2019 it was a milestone achievement for it and for the UK CAM sector as a whole.

The first iteration of the roadmap unlocked the collaborative potential of the country by creating a common goal that technology developers, legislators and service providers could work towards: the 2030 target deadline. 

Covid-19 has not been too disruptive to the development of the technology underpinning CAM, but it has had a negative impact on how people travel, pushing us away from public or shared transport and into our own cars. 

Local authorities will likely need to contend with a reduced enthusiasm for shared transport options even when the worst of the pandemic is behind us. 

But the need to reduce the reliance on personal vehicle usage has not changed.

Air quality struggle

Cities such as London are already struggling with air quality and congestion. So, whatever the future of mobility looks like, it needs to be greener and leaner. It cannot be based on personal vehicles powered by internal combustion engines (ICEs). 

This year will see a range of exciting self-driving projects go live across the country, from the CAVForth self-driving bus service to ServCity’s self-driving passenger trips in the capital. 

The CAVForth project is exciting because it is a real-world commercial service and is not all about the technology or the vehicle. Equally exciting, because of its potentially rapid impact on society and the economy, is the Transport for London (TfL) announcement of the first trial of its new Fusion traffic management system.

This draws on the dramatic increases in connectivity between people, goods, vehicles and infrastructure to optimise movement. It is innovations like these that are going to transform transport and mobility in our country. Connectivity is the foundation. Self-driving is the icing on the cake.  

CAM is not just about self-driving cars. The C for connectivity is what is going to deliver the most immediate benefits. For example, an intelligent transport system, fed with data from connected vehicles across the country, could help hauliers direct lorries to ports, informing them of optimal routes and speeds to reduce fuel consumption and time spent sitting in traffic or lorry parks. 

The C and M (mobility) in CAM could therefore help solve problems such as the queues at UK ports that we saw in December. The best part is, the technology already exists. We’ve spent years exploring the possibilities of this kind of technology, now we must exploit it. 

Right now, national, regional and local authorities should be inspired by how these practical transport innovations can aid their communities as we look to return to less restricted day-to-day living.

Excellent progress

The recent launch of the roadmap’s CAM Creators Update illustrates the excellent progress being made by industry despite being overshadowed by the effects of Covid-19. The insights and views of those from across the ecosystem on the impact of the pandemic (both long- and short-term) highlight two key points for us. 

First, the development of CAM in the UK has been very resilient. Second, despite this resilience, we still need guaranteed future support and investment to ensure the UK is in a position to not only benefit from improved mobility, but to also be a leading global exporter of it.  

Put another way, industry needs the Government to demonstrate true commitment to this pivotal agenda if there is to be the confidence required for the many organisations involved in CAM to align their strategies and pool their resources to assure UK success.

The UK has a strong track record in delivering trusted, world-class solutions across safety assurance, cyber security, simulation and certification. 

All these capabilities are vital to support the safe roll-out of CAM services over the next 10 years, all of which are reflected in the updated roadmap. But the skills and capacity required to do this work will rapidly disperse if the CAM mission falters due to lack of leadership.

The CAM Creators Update does a remarkable job of painting an accurate picture of the groundbreaking steps taken in the past 12 months, particularly in terms of developing safety and legal frameworks around
self-driving vehicles. 

Based on the input of our 117 CAM Creators, we now know where our strengths lie and where further support is needed to bolster our profile to attract further investment and interest from international players. 

However, it will not just be international interest in the UK as a CAM leader that will underpin our already bustling industry. It will be the wide variety of innovative start-ups we’re beginning to see sprout up which will need continued support if they are to flourish. This is where the CAM Scale-Up programme comes in. 

CAM scale-up programme

Last November, five UK-based small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), which are all developing innovative solutions and products to further the self-driving revolution, were selected to take part in the CAM scale-Up programme – a joint scheme from Zenzic and Silicon Valley tech investment giant Plug and Play. 

This programme, which is supported by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) is giving these start-ups a unique opportunity to test their products in realistic environments across the various CAM Testbed UK facilities, to help deliver them to market faster. 

They will also be entered into Plug and Play’s global ecosystem which offers mentorship from their expert partners, as well as links to corporate and venture capital partners across the globe.

It will be exciting to see how these and subsequent SMEs can further their growth as they progress through the programme.

While it’s great that we have the opportunity to support new talent, it’s imperative that this kind of support is mirrored at a higher level. 

The opportunity to safeguard and support new UK capabilities is now all the more important as the country seeks to accelerate growth out of the sharp economic downturn.  

Despite the pandemic and the impending issues surrounding Brexit, the UK’s CAM industry is still thriving. You only have to look at companies like Arrival or Oxbotica (which recently raised $47 million [£34m] in a Series B funding round) to get a sense of the phenomenal interest there is in homegrown CAM enterprises, proving that the UK is a world leader in this space. 

So we must make sure we thrive tomorrow, through intelligent, continued funding and leadership from the Government, matched by industry. Without this, we’ll be missing a chance to revolutionise not only personal mobility, but also traffic manage-ment, freight logistics and manufacturing.  

The opportunity to build up an industry like this is rare. Rarer still is to be in a leading position. With new jobs and a massive boost to the UK economy at stake, decisive and positive action must be taken now, to ensure the next decade of growth is safeguarded.

We are at a tipping point. Mobility is the platform that will be burning when we have Covid and Brexit under control. Let’s not pour fuel on it now by our failure to commit as a country.

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