Driverless transport will soon become a reality in the UK
WMG’s academics and engineers are making the future possible with their partners in the Midlands Future Mobility Testbed. In this issue of the WMG e-newsletter we talk to industry experts about the exciting opportunities and challenges associated with connected and automated mobility.
What does 5G offer over 4G communications for connected and automated mobility (CAM) applications?
Dr Matthew Higgins, Associate Professor for Connectivity and Wireless Communications, WMG
As is becoming ever more apparent, Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) is one of today’s most exciting research and innovation themes within both industry and academia. It is being demonstrated now on a daily basis through the media that CAM may provide real world impact on societal issues around safety, traffic flow and emissions. Whilst an automated vehicle is able to make decisions on how to judge local situations, the ‘connected’ element is pivotal to enhancing the decision making process to include information from the wider road network. For example, the ability for CAM to exchange inertia, LiDAR, camera, and radar sensor data, alongside video data from roadside infrastructure provides each vehicle with timely awareness of what is beyond their isolated line of sight. This in turn enables behaviours such as collision avoidance, adaptive speed control or platooning.
A key factor for this to happen is the networks’ ability to seamlessly share high volumes of data with appropriate timeliness. As consumers we are all used to the ‘G’, or generation, labelling which is attached to our phones. The dominant generation of devices are now 4G, which superseded 3G devices through technical changes in the way the network was designed and led to faster speeds with more responsiveness for our current data driven lifestyle.
5G is used to describe the fifth generation of mobile communications technologies. Crucially, 5G is more than just a faster internet connection. As a direct comparison over 4G, 5G will have a peak data rate 20 times currently on offer – up to 20Gbit/s, a user experience data rate 10 times that of now – up to 100Mbit/s, but it is the fall in latencies by 10 times to 1ms that makes 5G useful in CAM. This fall in latency (the time it takes for data to complete its journey) will be critical to enhancing collision avoidance capabilities where every millisecond counts. Also the enhanced peak date rate will allow the sharing of high definition images between infrastructure and vehicles which may assist in so called ‘smarter decisions’ that include contextual information of the situation.
The path to 5G communications providing these capabilities is ongoing, but progressive initiatives by Government from the Centre for Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) are accelerating the UKs international competitiveness.
Will 5G be bad for your health?
5G — the next generation of cellular technology — isn't the future. It's happening right now. Currently, various operators are in a whirl of 5G activity in major urban areas: EE, Vodafone and Three launched 5G services recently, while O2 is switching on its 5G network in October.
The benefits of 5G technology
For some customers, this innovation can't come soon enough. The speed 5G offers is well-documented, with higher data rates able to transfer larger volumes of information.
Bob Driver, Head of UK5G at CW (Cambridge Wireless Limited)
5G also brings the promise of better connectivity. This will be a boon for the automotive industry, supporting applications for autonomous vehicles; while trucks will be able to drive in networked convoys (so called 'platooning') to benefit the logistics sector. In agriculture, 5G will make it easier to use drones for crop and livestock monitoring. In healthcare, ambulance crews will be able to scan patients on the move and then transmit the information to hospitals in advance of their arrival. The government's stance is that 5G will be good for business, creating more commercial opportunities and increasing productivity.
Why is there concern that 5G poses a health risk?
Yet, in the background, there's chatter that the roll-out of 5G may pose a public health risk. This is unwarranted says Bob Driver, Head of UK5G at CW (Cambridge Wireless Limited), although we have been here before. “Around the turn of the century there was a worry that mobile phones could pose a health risk — although fears subsided when the government's Stewart Inquiry found no evidence to support this.”
The concern over 5G has baffled some in the industry and surprised others, notes Bob. “But the fact is there have always been people who are suspicious of mobile phone technology. Plus, the amplifying effect of social media doesn't help. These days, it's much easier to cherry pick from the swathe of scientific papers on this topic — some of which are of limited value, some of which have clinical relevance — and share these online.” He observes that 3G didn't suffer this fate, because it occurred in the pre-social media age; while 4G was viewed as an extension of the previous technology.
How safe is 5G?
5G is different, however. “It's true that some 5G networks will work at higher frequencies, and that some terms used in advanced base station technology — such as 'beamforming' and 'massive MiMo' (Multiple input Multiple Output) — can sound alarming,” says Bob. “Yet it's important to say that 5G sits well within the guidelines established by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), a body formally recognised by the World Health Association (WHO), which provides scientific advice and guidance on the health and environmental effects of non-ionizing radiation (NIR) to protect people and the environment from detrimental NIR exposure.”
What's more, Public Health England has concluded there's no convincing evidence that human exposure of radio waves below ICNIRP guideline levels causes health effects in either adults or children and, in the US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says that 5G poses no new risk.
No doubt there will still be dissenting voices about the 5G revolution — but, officially, it offers no cause for alarm.
For more information please visit the UK5G.org website:
Why trial driverless vehicles on public roads?
Dr Alan Walker, Engineering Centre Manager, AVL
In the UK, driverless road vehicles are trialled on both proving grounds — i.e. controlled test tracks — and on public roads (it's important to note that we prefer to talk about 'trialling' rather than 'testing', as a trial is something that takes place following successful testing). Despite the name, these vehicles aren't actually 'driverless' at all, because a safety driver is in the car at all times in case the automated system fails — or 'disengages' — in some way. In this country, when 'driverless' road vehicles are being trialled on public roads, other safeguards are included too, such as camera systems and an additional engineer. There's also a requirement to display information on the vehicle which informs the public that it's under trial.
The advantages of trialling driverless vehicles on public roads far outweigh the disadvantages. The main disadvantage is that the safety driver may be lulled into a false sense of security by the technology, which is still immature. Accidents have happened. To avoid them, good safety driver training is vital.
Trialling driverless vehicles on public roads is a necessity because if developers of automated systems don't prove their technology in real world situations, they'll never understand how fit for purpose those systems are. Let's face it: companies such as AVL aren't developing automated technology to deploy it on test tracks. We're developing it so it can be used on public roads.
What developers are looking for in real world situations
During a real world trial, it's important to assess how vehicles react to 'edge cases'. By this we mean anything from unusual road layouts and interactions with other road users and pedestrians, to the way the light passing between buildings creates shadows on the road that may fool the vehicle's sensors. It's only when they cover as many real world scenarios as possible that a designer can ask: 'Did I take into account all the necessary factors when I was designing the system?' The other good thing about public road trials is that data is recorded and published, so we can track how the technology is progressing.
The importance of Midlands Future Mobility
In the UK, the Midlands Future Mobility programme (a real world ecosystem for connected and automated mobility technology development) plays an important part in driverless technology trialling because it features a variety of environments, from main arterial roads to urban and rural areas. It's really quite impressive. In terms of scale, there aren't any comparable real world trialling environments — particularly ones that have the CCTV and wireless communications equipment to monitor the vehicles as they move around a large area. Midlands Future Mobility also offers the chance to grow public confidence in CAM. People need to see vehicles out on the roads and experience interaction with them if they are ever to fully accept them.
ADAS: Accelerating the move to autonomous vehicles?
Siddartha Khastgir, Head of Verification and Validation, Intelligent Vehicles at WMG, reveals how the public views advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) — and if these technologies might help with the development of driverless vehicles.
How were advanced driver-assistance systems first received by the public?
When first introduced in the mid to late 1990s, ADAS was largely given a positive reception because applications such as adaptive cruise control (ACC) and anti-lock braking (ABS) were marketed as important safety features — and safety always plays well with the public. But by the early 2000s, trust in ADAS had began to plummet. One reason for this is that the limitations of some ADAS features were not always made clear to drivers, who only discovered their shortcomings by using them. That stands to reason: if I think a system works all the time, but then it suddenly stops working, my trust in it will fall.
How is ADAS received — and used — today?
There is evidence to suggest that people want and are willing to pay for ADAS features; but there's another piece of evidence which suggests they don't use them all the time because they don't fully trust them. That said, popular ADAS features include automated emergency braking (AEB) and electronic stability control (ESC), which are intermittent applications mandated through law in new cars. Indeed, buyers of new vehicles expect mandated ADAS to be included in their purchase.
What are the challenges ADAS systems present to the automotive industry?
One of the biggest is testing because it's very important to ensure that the application is safe. There's also the challenge of getting people to accept it and use it because, as human beings, we like to be fully in control of everything we do. There's also a challenge with insurance, although more so for autonomous vehicles than ADAS. Namely, if there's an accident when the car is in autonomous mode, whose fault will it be? That's an area that's still being worked on. As technology advances, a standard MOT procedure may not be relevant anymore; plus trainees and technicians in garages will need to be re-skilled. Academia and industry needs to focus on how to get supply chains ready for these changes. At WMG we're doing a lot of work in this area with the WMG Degree Apprenticeship Centre which will be opening shortly.
Does the public's reaction to ADAS indicate how it might greet the emergence of fully autonomous cars?
I think it does. At WMG we work on a concept called Informed Safety, which is about growing trust through knowledge. If manufacturers inform users about what ADAS can and — more importantly — cannot do, then acceptance of it will be much higher.
How might use of ADAS help with the development of autonomous systems going forward?
ADAS is a first step on the journey. Some aspects of ADAS are transferrable to autonomous vehicle technology, others need to be re-engineered. Still, the big difference between ADAS and fully autonomous vehicles is that, with the former, the user still has control. With the latter they're giving up complete control. That's a big, counterintuitive jump to make.
What will the future of connected and automated mobility look like?
Chris Lane, Head of Transport Innovation at Transport for West Midlands
We are used to a level of connectivity and automated driving in our current vehicles e.g. advanced driver assistance systems, satellite navigation systems, congestion warnings, cruise control and the like. All of these are being taken further e.g. automatic lane change, adaptive cruise control, blind spot assistance, platooning of heavy goods vehicles.
According to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), this evolving connected and automated car market could benefit the UK economy by up to £62 billion by 2030, creating up to 420,000 new jobs. But what will the future of transport look like when CAM becomes a reality? How will it change our cars, roads and public vehicles — and how will it benefit drivers and passengers?
The 'connected' part of the CAM equation is happening already. Chris Lane, Head of Transport Innovation at Transport for West Midlands — the public body responsible for co-ordinating transport services in the region — notes that vehicles with connected technology are coming off production lines now. “Their big benefit is safety,” he says. “For example, if a vehicle brakes hard, the vehicle two or three cars behind will be alerted, which is a way to stop shunts. We also did a trial where information from motorway gantry signs was relayed to vehicles to help drivers where visibility is poor or where there's a lack of road signage infrastructure.”
Better connected public transport will improve the passenger experience too. For instance, if a train is late, it will be able to let waiting bus or car drivers know about the delay.
Critical issues to solve
Combined with connectivity, automated technology will allow cooperation between vehicles, with better use of road space and networks and a smoother flow of traffic. Increasingly we are using the term ‘automated mobility’ rather than ‘autonomous vehicles’, as the intelligence may be distributed between the vehicle and infrastructure. “We have to remember there are different levels of automation,” says Chris, “at the top is Level 5 where the car drives without any human interaction. We're quite a long way from that and, to get there, processing computer power needs to take a step change. Plus, there's an institutional issue to solve: Highways England, vehicle manufacturers and providers need to find a way to work together to share information.” It's difficult to say how road infrastructure needed to support the CAM market will change, explains Chris — although mobile 5G base stations might become more evident.
Changing business models
Currently, OEMs and their supply chains are concentrating on the applications around safety and efficiency offered by connected technology, says Chris. But they do have to think about how CAM could revolutionise transport business models down the line. “Many motor manufacturers tell us the future isn't about selling cars. It's about selling mobility services or experiences under their brand. There will be challenges for them such as changing from 'a vehicle manufacturer' to 'a mobility service provider'. Then there's product differentiation: how will they make one automated vehicle differ from another?”
Seamless transport ecosystem
Ultimately, Transport for West Midlands' ambition is to offer a seamless transport ecosystem with multiple providers taking people from A to B. To speed the arrival of CAM technology, it's involved in various projects such as the Midlands Future Mobility testbed. “We want companies to trial their connected and automated vehicles here,” says Chris. “We're creating an environment to encourage them to set up in the West Midlands for economic reasons; but also so we can understand the technology and what we need to do as a region to better prepare for it.”
Driving commercial opportunity
Professor Paul Jennings, Intelligent Vehicles Research Lead at WMG, talks about the commercial opportunities for intelligent vehicles in the UK.
What's your definition of 'intelligent vehicles'?
'Intelligent vehicles' is a catch-all title for our research because we work on connectivity in vehicles; we work on automation in vehicles; and we work on projects that don't involve either. For instance, intelligence in a vehicle could be a way to achieve improved comfort and convenience features or to improve energy management.
What are the main markets for intelligent vehicles? Cars? Trucks? Public transport?
We're talking all of the above. It's important to remember that the market for intelligent vehicles isn't just so that people can move around more safely, comfortably and conveniently. It's about moving goods, too. Whatever market WMG is working in, however, it has to make sure it's here to solve problems and create new opportunities for customers and for our industry partners. Our role is to help UK companies exploit the significant emerging business opportunities through collaborative research, and through provision of new skills and education programmes.
Who are the main players in the intelligent vehicles market?
It's interesting because things have moved beyond traditional automotive companies now. At WMG, we do work with traditional companies and their supply base, of course; but there are new types of designer-manufacturers on the scene too. For example, in low-speed autonomous transport there are companies such as Aurrigo — the autonomous vehicle division of RDM Group — which designs and manufactures low-speed driverless pods here in Coventry. It is also important that we work with other key sectors too, such as wireless communications, simulation and transport infrastructure. Collaboration with authorities such as Transport for West Midlands is also crucial.
What are the main commercial drivers for companies in the intelligent vehicles space?
I'd put safety at the top of the agenda because, first and foremost, everyone wants to be safe. Then there are lower emissions and better energy efficiency. I don't think we can necessarily expect intelligent vehicles to reduce congestion, but they should be able to give us much better estimates about journey times. Also, there's a chance to make different modes of transports work better together — for example improving links between road and rail.
How can UK companies best take advantage of the commercial opportunities they identify?
The Midlands Future Mobility environment we, and our consortium partners, are creating is very exciting and will give real advantages to UK companies. It's going to be a place where they can come to trial their new vehicles, technologies and services in the real world, with proper public and user-engagement. That's a great opportunity for them to learn more from trials, and have the process made easier for them. It's also good for the Midlands which will experience those new technologies and services earlier than everyone else.
How do you see commercial opportunities developing in the future?
I think the whole supply chain will change dramatically. There will be an increasing importance on software, sensors, perception systems and connected components. But I think, over time, business models will change more dramatically as transport becomes more of a mobility-focused service industry, with customers buying 'journeys' rather than 'vehicles'.
Midlands Future Mobility will be a real-world ecosystem for Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) technology development. We will act as the springboard for scalable, future mobility technologies and services. The journeys of tomorrow start here today, for the beneﬁt of society and business as part of the UK’s National Strategy.
How you can use Midlands Future Mobility:
- Access a uniquely diverse, public physical test environment with smart monitoring, the latest wireless connectivity and a complete support network
- Utilise a digital twin of the test route, which can be used in external facilities or in our state of the art simulation suite
- Access to research, design, evaluation and deployment support from a consortium of delivery partners
Find out more about the MFM product offering: https://midlandsfuturemobility.co.uk/about-us/