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UK aims to be “world number one” in driverless cars

Mapping the progress: the UK is heavily investing into driverless cars. (Photo: Tim Watt)

With a new “Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Hub”, the UK government is streamlining its efforts to become the leading nation in driverless mobility. The administration’s bold vision will intensify international competition.

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With a new “Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Hub”, the UK government is streamlining its efforts to become the leading nation in driverless mobility. The administration’s bold vision will intensify international competition.

The day before petitioning for divorce from the EU, the UK government outlined its vision for a national autonomous vehicle testing infrastructure, offering to reconcile flag-waving with openness to inward investment.

The new Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Hub, or 'CAV Hub', was introduced at a launch event in London on 28 March at Loughborough University’s Olympic Park campus. It will oversee an ‘ecosystem’ for autonomous vehicle testing made up of permanent facilities, initially part-supported by public funds but intended to be economically viable in the long term.

The coordinating CAV Hub will be funded from a £100 million fund for new connected and autonomous vehicle testing infrastructure announced by the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond last year. Jim Campbell, formerly of BMW, Land Rover and Worldwide Marketing Director of Bentley Motor Cars, introduced the new body at the launch, highlighting its mission to help enable the UK, “to be the world number one for connected and autonomous vehicles.

Paul Gadd, Programme Manager at Innovate UK, at the event. (Photo: Tim Watt)

The CAV Hub is looking to build upon existing test centres and continue previous work on a (testing) code of practice, as well as in other regulatory frameworks such as insurance, cyber-security and data management. Campbell asserted that, “government support is a big part of why people will want to come and work with our community in the UK - and it is getting noticed.”

With trials underway involving on-road real-life demonstrations in London by Nissan and by Volvo, plus research involving a nascent UK autonomous vehicle industry, including Jaguar Land Rover and several new entrants supported by earlier rounds of funding, Mr Campbell emphasised that non-UK operators are welcome to get involved so long as public money is used to support UK-based research.

A related announcement also made at the event was outline details of a funding competition to support the test facilities themselves, for which the UK government will offer up to £55 million to support three sites. These will be located in easy reach of Oxford, within the UK’s 'automotive and technology heartland'.

Kickstarting research for autonomous driving

Via its innovation agency Innovate UK and its Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, the UK government is already supporting driverless car testing in four locations: Greenwich, Bristol and a joint Milton Keynes and Coventry based project.

In addition, last summer, from a £100 million fund provided by the previous coalition government, over £25 million was invested in eight R&D projects supporting digital and physical technologies needed for driverless transport systems, as well as just under £2 million for 20 feasibility studies.

Nissan is testing their autonomous cars on public London roads. (Photo: Nissan)

The outcome of a second competition, offering £35 million from the same funding pot to come up with technical solutions for connected and autonomous vehicle features that provide real-world benefits to users, is due to be announced in the ‘imminent future’.

A third CAV competition will support the test sites or 'spokes’ to the coordinating CAV Hub. Up to £55 million will be invested in projects developing connected and autonomous vehicle testing infrastructure, a first of two phases initially offering £35 million, aimed at producing the world’s most effective CAV test ecosystem.

An invitation for proposals opens next week. It will offer up to €20m per facility for test centres located within approximately 70 miles of Oxford that integrate existing proving grounds and public road test sites - for testing in urban areas, parking, interurban and high-speed operation.

These projects should allow for testing of autonomous vehicles in ‘appropriate and realistic environments; testing ‘vehicle to everything’ (V2X) connectivity capabilities and methodologies; and testing of equipment that may interact with CAVs, such as roadside infrastructure’.

Volvo is among the companies trialing self-driving cars in the UK. (Photo: Volvo)

Jim Campbell, the newly appointed CAV Hub launch director stated the vision is for the UK, “quite simply, to be the world number one for connected and autonomous vehicles. More importantly still, we want to make sure the UK is recognised as the global leader in this field.”

Noting the dichotomy, Campbell added, “we’re competing in a race, but to be clearly number one we need to be collaborating with leading nations as well.”

“Collaboration will give us that extra push and (help) develop international standards as well.” As for his views on the likely impact of Brexit for the UK CAV sector, Jim added, “it makes the need for collaboration even more urgent.”

Mr Campbell cited forecasts of the global market opportunity as likely to be worth £900 billion annually by 2025; in other words, “a huge potential marketplace. So, looking forward, the key question we’re asking is how do we accelerate both the development and adoption of CAVs in the UK?”

About our author:

Tim Watt is a freelance journalist based in the UK. Previously he worked for Knowledge Transfer Network, specialised in communicating transport technology innovation programmes for

Innovate UK, Department for Transport, and the UK business engagement with European Commission Horizon 2020 programmes.

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