What is driving the driverless car agenda in the UK?

“In the world of personal mobility, change is in the air, or more precisely on the road. Not since the internal combustion engine got us off our horses at the end of the 19th century has the future of transport looked so different and the market opportunity so dynamic.”

This bold statement, made by the chief executive of HORIBA MIRA George Gillespie, captures the mood of excitement within the automotive industry at present. As a pioneering global provider of engineering, research and test services to the sector, HORIBA MIRA is in the vanguard of developments and in Dr Gillespie’s analysis, two global megatrends lie behind the way our relationship with the car is evolving and the industry along with it.

FOT_Mira_2The first global megatrend has been ongoing for the last 25 years and revolves around continued efforts to reduce noxious gas emissions and carbon fuel consumption. This entails efficiency and environmental improvements to petrol and diesel engines, accompanied by increasing electrification, moving towards hybrids, battery-powered vehicles and alternative fuels.

Activity in this area has intensified of late, though, in response to the fallout from the so-called “dieselgate” scandal, involving misreporting of engine and emissions data by Volkswagen and other vehicle manufacturers. As a result, there has been a renewed focus from the regulatory authorities on emissions and fuel-economy performance and testing.

For the UK, this represents an important potential growth area, with the Automotive Council UK and government having identified the low-carbon powertrain – engines and transmissions – as a key differentiator going forward.

The second big megatrend is really about the car becoming a feature of our connected lifestyle and part of the internet of things – almost like a smartphone on wheels. In fact, the car is actually arriving pretty late to the party, with the automotive industry one of the last big markets to finally feel the force of the digital revolution. However, change is coming now and coming very quickly.

A lot of work at present is around technologies for vehicles that are increasingly intelligent – fitted with sensors such as cameras and radar – so they are increasingly aware of their surroundings and can take decisions on behalf of the driver on what to do, as well as optimise safety and efficiency. In addition, the cars are connected and it is this internet connectivity that enables them to become part of a 21st-century citizen’s extended digital life.

What the UK is looking to do is position itself as the leading location in Europe to test and deploy these technologies

Ultimately, the advances in connected and intelligent technologies lead us in the direction of autonomous vehicles or driverless cars as they are known. For the UK, these represent a major market opportunity and focus for investment.

According to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the overall economic and social benefit of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) could be in the region of £51 billion a year by 2030. CAVs carry the potential to create an additional 320,000 jobs in the UK, and save more than 2,500 lives and prevent over 25,000 serious accidents.

In pursuing its market ambitions, the UK boasts a number of unique competitive advantages, says Dr Gillespie. “CAVs are going to happen, that is a reality and UK government recognises that. However, global competition is intense. Many nations around the world, including the US, China, Germany, South Korea and Japan, also see this as a once-in-a-100-years transformational opportunity and want to be part of it,” he says.

“What the UK is looking to do is position itself as the leading location in Europe to test and deploy these technologies. In this country, we have an unrivalled ecosystem of resources to help customers develop their vehicles. In the whole of Europe, not only do we have four of the top five universities, but also its only megacity – London – and worst congestion, plus its only dedicated CAV test facility, right here in the Midlands, at HORIBA MIRA.”

Developed at a cost of more than £10 million, the City Circuit at HORIBA MIRA in Nuneaton allows you to test CAVs in a safe environment, replicating road conditions and features found in a city, including controllable traffic lights, signs, multiple mobile communications permutations and urban canyon simulation.

Indeed, when the UK government announced funding earlier this year of £20 million for eight projects in enhanced communication between vehicles and roadside infrastructure or urban information systems, it did so at the HORIBA MIRA test centre.

These projects are the first to receive monies from the £100-million Intelligent Mobility Fund, with HORIBA MIRA a member of the successful consortium behind the £5.6-million UK Connected Intelligent Transport Environment (UK CITE) bid to create the most advanced environment for CAV testing.

UK CITE involves equipping more than 40 miles of urban roads, dual carriageways and motorways with combinations of connected car technologies. The project will establish how this technology can improve journeys, reduce traffic congestion, and provide entertainment and safety services through better connectivity.

For society and the individual, this rapid and unstoppable revolution in personal mobility will ultimately change our relationship with the car, forever, says Dr Gillespie. “I do think the move towards autonomous models will loosen the emotional link between user and vehicle. Once you no longer have the direct driving pleasure and responsibility of touching and controlling the car, the bond is broken and the desire to own the vehicle will diminish. A move towards mobility as a service then becomes increasingly likely, with us seamlessly subscribing to these services,” he concludes.

“The commercialisation of these systems is not without challenges, such as addressing regulatory and cyber security concerns. HORIBA MIRA is at the heart of delivering solutions to overcome many of the technical hurdles and I forecast that for domestic uses, such as the daily commute, the future will be driverless.”

Watling Street, Nuneaton,
Warwickshire, CV10 0TU
Tel. (0)24 7635 5000