Why collaboration is key to getting self-driving vehicles on UK roads

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The introduction of self-driving vehicles will bring enormous change, but it will not be without its challenges. Dr Rich Porter, technology and innovation director at Zenzic, explains the crucial role that collaboration will play in making self-driving transportation a reality.

The introduction of self-driving vehicles on our roads will result in the biggest change to day-to-day life since the seismic shift ushered in by smartphones. Self-driving technologies will affect a wide range of industries, from platooning trucks reinventing haulage, to robotaxis delivering people to their desired destinations across our cities. Meanwhile, those with little mobility today will soon be on the move again.

However, the development of these vehicles is immensely complicated, relying on the intricate interdependencies of dozens of fields. The self-driving future requires hundreds of organizations to work simultaneously on projects in their respective areas of ownership. A lack of progress in one area will hold up the development of technologies or services in another.

It was with this complexity in mind that Zenzic developed and recently released the UK Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) Roadmap to 2030. We spent more than six months working with representatives from more than 150 organizations across government, industry and academia to develop this tool. It’s intended to unify efforts across disparate industries to achieve a common goal: getting self-driving vehicles on UK roads within the next decade.

Within the roadmap we have identified six ‘golden threads’: safety, cyber resilience, public acceptability, CAM services, infrastructure, and legislation and regulation. All six will require particularly close collaboration across a wide range of industry areas.

The first and most important of these threads is safety. Safety considerations must provide the bedrock for any developments in technology, services or legislation with self-driving vehicles, and affect all of the development streams that the roadmap identifies.

We have also created a separate cyber-resilience golden thread – important given the huge volumes of data that will be recorded and shared by self-driving vehicles. These vehicles will need to have cyber-resilience at their core, as they’ll be connected to the vehicles and the roadside infrastructure around them. Each connection point must have robust cyber defences to ensure the security of the system as a whole.

Both safety and cyber-resilience will be crucial in building public trust in self-driving vehicles. The benefits of self-driving technologies will need to be communicated, and convincing safety and cyber defence proof points will be necessary if consumers are to accept and use these vehicles. These are covered in the public acceptance thread. It’s not surprising that one of the key deliverables identified in these golden threads is for education programs to be set up as soon as possible.

With these points tackled, the development of CAM services can begin in earnest. One key milestone we identified in the CAM services thread was that by 2027, they will be a cheaper option for consumers than more traditional transportation modes. This will provide a key turning point in public adoption of these services.

From a technological standpoint, an important development will be the introduction of CAM-enabled wireless communications networks. As outlined in the infrastructure golden thread, towns and cities need to be developing blueprints for how their urban areas will adapt to CAM services by 2021. These will need to include plans for how new high-bandwidth low-latency communication networks will be installed. Consideration will also need to be given to town planning so spaces such as parking lots and taxi ranks can be adapted for self-driving vehicles.

The final golden thread, which cuts across all the others, covers legislation and regulation. Progress is already well under way. The government has an important role to play in ensuring the technology is developed with the best interests of the public in mind, and that vehicles are rolled out with a safety-first attitude. We have already worked with the Ordnance Survey to examine mapping requirements and with BSI to develop standard safety frameworks for self-driving vehicles. Early collaboration between government and industry on standards like these will pave the way for high quality legislation at the right time.

Across all the golden threads, what’s clear is that collaboration is critical if we are to benefit from self-driving vehicles by 2030. Indeed, if all the steps needed to make self-driving a reality were to happen in a linear fashion, these vehicles would not hit the streets until 2079.

The Roadmap to 2030 is the first tool of its kind not only in the UK, but in the world. It forges relationships across multiple industries to achieve collaboration in meeting the common goal: to roll out connected and automated mobility at scale by 2030. It is a powerful example of the UK’s leadership in the CAM space, and something that we hope will speed progress in self-driving technologies around the world.

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