What do connected and autonomous vehicles actually mean for the future of transport?

John Bradburn | 31 Mar 2015 | Comments

Connected and autonomous vehicle technologies are set to fundamentally transform our relationship with vehicles over the coming years. The potential benefits of connected and autonomous vehicles are so great that according to a recent KPMG study they could deliver £51bn in economic benefit per annum to the UK by 2030.

In their forecast KPMG have valued the improved user experience at £40bn (by far the greatest contributor to the overall £51bn benefit) being driven largely by increased productivity as users can work while they travel. The potential wider economic impacts of such vehicles are also substantial including reduced travel and freight costs, the better use of urban space and industry gains from developing and selling the technologies behind connected and autonomous vehicles.

These benefits tie in with the wider move towards Intelligent Mobility – a new way of thinking about how to better connect people, goods and services across all transport modes, improving the overall customer experience and supporting behavioural change. Central to this is the development and harnessing of new technologies and data sources, as well as an understanding of user behaviour, acceptability and adoption.

The move towards connected and autonomous vehicles comes at a time when the way in which we use transport is evolving. We see a greater desire amongst car drivers for access to mobility rather than ownership – with the uptake of car clubs and services such as Uber. This is reflected in the concept of Mobility as a Service which is focused on providing a single platform for presenting mobility options to the customer in a simple integrated manner. This will see connected and autonomous vehicles being one of several options available for users as part of an overall mobility package with the vehicles themselves potentially not being owned by the user but the manufacturer, mobility provider or local government.

At this early stage of the roadmap towards the adoption of fully autonomous vehicles, the development of innovative technology is key. In particular, the development of sensors and their integration within vehicles and road infrastructure pushes forward the ability for vehicles to connect with each other and the transport infrastructure. Further to this, the simulation of autonomous vehicles is crucial for fully understanding their impact.

Understanding the huge amount of data available and using more effective analytical techniques in order to develop improved products and services for users is great. But at the same time there is a huge need to understand what this will really mean for users once we can roll out new technologies, especially how we will interact with connected and autonomous vehicles, which is why Atkins is working as part of the Venturer consortium to better understand how such vehicles will interact with the urban environment and user acceptability towards them.

We must also ensure that the right environment is in place for the testing and subsequent adoption of these vehicles. The UK is already well placed with Government encouraging innovation and testing through the establishment of autonomous vehicle trials – as seen in Milton Keynes, Bristol, Coventry and Greenwich. However it is too easy to become complacent, there is a need to better develop and establish the right independent urban testing facilities for autonomous vehicles.

Government and industry must also ensure that the policy and regulatory environment keeps up with technological developments. Whilst the UK’s regulatory framework is currently favourable for the development of autonomous vehicles (noted by KPMG) as technology develops so must the relevant legislation. This is a central topic for the Venturer consortium which is working to understand the legal and insurance implications of autonomous vehicles.

The potential benefits of connected and autonomous vehicles are clear and the UK is well placed to achieve them both in terms of benefits to the user and the wider economic gains from being a leader in developing the technologies behind them. But we must not rest on our laurels; we must continue to innovate, ask questions and challenge ourselves.

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