Connected and Autonomous vehicles – what’s the latest?

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For some, connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) are the future, for others they spark concern for road safety and everyday reliability. The fact is that a place for CAVs in the future of mobility seems pretty certain so keeping up to date on the latest information regarding this kind of technology is wise, not to mention fairly fascinating. Here, we round up the latest expert thinking on CAVs so you can make up your own mind as to whether we’re ready for them just yet or not.

CAVs – part of the UK’s automotive industry’s future success?

According to The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) CAVs could spell a ‘transport revolution’ for the UK and beyond. In its CAV report published earlier this year*, the trade body stated that ‘these technologies are no longer solely in the realm of science fiction and their adoption represents arguably the greatest change to how we travel since the invention of the motor car.’

The report went on to detail how the UK automotive industry is investing significantly into new technologies, collaborating with government and policy makers and that various car manufacturers and brands were working closer together than ever before across different sectors. All good news for the development of CAVs in general but what about for the UK?

The SMMT commented on this too stating that the UK was very much in the mix to be one of the leaders when it came to developing, manufacturing and supporting the growth of a CAV industry here. The report stated too that the ongoing investment in this area could pay dividends for the country as a whole, saving, by their estimations, 3,900 lives and creating 420,000 new jobs. Additionally, if the UK was to harness and lead on such technology it could spell an additional £62billion for our economy. All good news so far.

The plan currently is to have CAVs on the road by 2030, sooner than many might think but the road to making CAVs a reality may not be smooth. One key issue, will be the impact of Brexit, the wider impact of which we have discussed previously in our blog here. While the impact of Brexit is still to be realised, how well we can perform in the race to become a global leader in CAV technology hangs in the balance. Clearly, the UK is in a prime position to be a leader in future mobility but only if the conditions are right and crucially that we leave the EU in an orderly fashion. Whether this happens of course remains to be seen but the potnetal is most certainly there.

CAV reliability?

The above facts and figures sound good, more jobs, lives saved, financial injection into the country’s economy and the UK becoming a global leader in innovation in this area. But what about for the everyday driver? How reliable is this technology set to be, particularly in the early days?

Well, there’s a lot to be said in this area too and much to consider as the development of CAVs continues. First, is the infrastructure supporting this development. These types of vehicles will require a vast amount of data which will rely on more and more sophisticated electronic support. This will undoubtedly have implications, particularly in the early days. For CAVs to be 100% reliable, data sensing and transmission will also have to be 100% reliable and taking place in real-time. Any delay or downtime could be fatal, literally. This will be a key focus for manufacturers and technology companies in the first instance and will require significant collaboration with both government and industry bodies to be robust. The success of this aspect of CAV development will be key to their adoption moving forward.

Additionally, reliability should be considered to be multi-faceted. Included in how we measure this should be how safe they are, the impact on our roads and, additionally, whether or not they get us to where we need to be regularly and in good time. These three things could be considered mutually exclusive. For example, a car that is designed to be safer may operate more slowly, increase its distance from the vehicle its following and may break more often. This may reduce road capacity and increase journey times. Having said this however, while people may potentially be spending more time in cars, if they are not physically driving, this time could be used for work or socialisation to counteract any time lost at the intended destination. In addition to this, the public’s appetite to share vehicles will also impact any potential fall-out from reduced road capacity. There is clearly much to be considered when it comes to reliability but with various trials into the use of CAVs ongoing, this will undoubtedly be a priority for manufacturers across the board to encourage early adoption wherever possible.

Safety of CAVs

The safety of CAVs has been one of the most hotly contested subjects. Giving up the control of your everyday journeys to a computer is something many will feel uncomfortable with. However, the figures from the SMMT we’ve already mentioned are reassuring when it comes to considering safety.

One thing that should also perhaps be front of mind when it comes to the safety of CAVs is their penetration into the UK market. There is little chance we will wake up one day and entire population will make its way to wherever we need to go using CAVs. Their penetration is going to be very gradual and this will likely impact their safety too. For example, in Google’s testing of its pilot autonomous vehicles, most accidents reported have come from manned vehicles crashing into the back of the autonomous cars as they’ve slowed down or hesitated at junctions. Even if all vehicles on the road are CAVs, there are still likely to be pedestrians, cyclists etc on the road that can always be unpredictable and potentially hazardous. And, while CAVs, once ready, will be equipped to interpret potential hazards and therefore deal with them, perhaps better than any human, it doesn’t stop other road users having accidents around and involving them. However, the final point on this aspect of CAV safety must be the fact that, currently, 93 per cent of accidents on the road are attributed to human error and with this in mind, anything that takes human judgement out of the equation as much as possible can only be a good thing.

One of the other key fears when it comes to CAV safety is their reliance on data technology and the potential vulnerability around this. With the question of CAV penetration in mind, it’s also worth considering that the more we rely on them, the bigger impact any kind of data breach or hacking would have on our infrastructure. Insurance companies across the UK have raised their concerns around data security with CAVs and the government and manufacturers are working hard to reassure industry and consumers alike.  Additionally, both in the UK and internationally, insurers are working with regulators and governments to make sure the right rules are in place, so the first fully driverless cars are able to cope with all eventualities without a driver needing to intervene.

In fact, earlier this year, a consultation working through the technical details of all the recommendations took place with the results being passed on to the relevant national and international regulators to combat these concerns.

It’s clear that some of the world’s biggest technology companies and vehicle manufacturers are working hard on and investing heavily in CAVs and in ensuring both their safety and reliability. However, there is still a long way to go before they appear as a viable form of everyday transport on UK roads. What will be key to their success is the UK’s role in developing and producing such technology and the infrastructure to support them and, perhaps more importantly, giving peace to the minds of both industry professionals and consumers that CAVs are the best way forward for future mobility.

* https://www.smmt.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/SMMT-CONNECTED-REPORT-2019.pdf

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