TNB takes a look into the CAM future of commercial vehicles
This week TNB caught up with Dr Richard Porter, Technology and Innovation Director at Zenzic – the organisation at the forefront of the UK’s drive to a CAM future – and asked for his thoughts on the subject.
What’s the general picture in terms of CAM development across the UK?
Over the last five years or so there’s been huge investment from government into the industry, totaling about £400 million for research and development of everything from dealing with security issues to running trials on UK roads.
We’ve also had investment in testing and development infrastructure which will support that research.
So we now have a huge ecosystem of companies that have been working together to bring advanced trials to reality across the UK.
What we have is a really great mix of investment and a regulatory environment that allows businesses to be tested in real world environments, with real people to build up those early markets.
How are things progressing in the commercial vehicle sector specifically?
The commercial vehicle sector has huge untapped potential that we need to explore.
There’s certainly been investment in organisations like Arrival, working with UPS in what is a great opportunity for a UK business to deliver electric and eventually automated vehicles to large logistics companies.
We now need to look at things like how freight and logistics will tie into everything from inter-depot deliveries to heavy goods vehicles delivering safe services in platoons up and down our motorways.
Also, then when we look at distribution in built-up areas we’re addressing questions like: how will we be delivering goods much more efficiently to people in our towns, cities and villages? How is freight going to move around? How can freight movements be orchestrated more efficiently?
In terms of delivery to market, freight and logistics is potentially a great early adopter of this technology because decisions are based more on efficiency and cost rather than emotions and personal feelings.
I’ll go so far as to say freight and logistics could be at the vanguard of robotics in terms of delivery to our streets.
Is the investment all being made in London?
There is a concentration in and around London – the Royal Borough of Greenwich in particular – with pod trials in and around the O2, but there are exciting projects taking place nationwide, with investment in Oxbotica and Midlands Future Mobility for example.
One of the most exciting projects for me is CAV Forth – an automated bus service that will run across the Forth Bridge in Scotland in real scale with thousands of passengers every year using that service.
Huge regional opportunities to take the investment and use it to start to determine how services will be delivered on a regional scale.
In terms of commercial vehicles, what needs to happen to ensure the adoption of CAM?
There are a few things.
Firstly, we need to look at regulation. And think about how it meets the needs of technology.
For example, when developing the technology for truck platoons, can the drivers actually take their hands off the wheel? That could have huge implications for things like drivers’ hours, driver health and the efficiency of the distribution network. This will only be possible if regulatory regimes can ensure that this technology is delivered safety to market.
We’d need legislation to allow vehicle drivers to disengage. Very early on we need legal reforms that enable drivers not to have to be legally responsible for driving so they can genuinely shut off.
We also need to invest reasonably heavily in test and development facilities looking into things like how an automated heavy goods vehicle operates in a logistics yard, making and receiving deliveries. That’s something that doesn’t exist globally and I know that if I were building or retrofitting a goods vehicle I’d want to know that it would operate safely, effectively and efficiently.
The third thing is that we need to invest in living labs where we bring together freight and logistics organisations to actually test how we can better orchestrate the delivery of these services. We need to work with local authorities and local government to figure how we can best optimize things like traffic regulations.
How is the wider adoption of autonomous technology going to impact jobs?
There will be long-term changes but, ultimately, what we might see is a change in how people are employed. When we talk to delivery organisations the person making the delivery is an important ambassador for them and how they deliver their service – it’s a great source of intelligence. So, it might be that what we start to see is a shift in the types of jobs people do. Instead of being the driver, for example, you might be the safety operator. In terms of deliveries, you might be engaging with your customers, telling them when their delivery’s coming and doing a different job as part of that service.
We will see fully automated robotic deliveries in some situations but I can’t see the human ever being completely withdrawn from the loop.
How does the UK compare to other countries in terms of CAM development?
Within the G7 we’re ranked second. That’s a very good place to be and is largely because of investment to date in research and development and the regulatory framework in this country.
But also, the UK is a great early adopter of technology. You just have to look at online payments, internet shopping and smartphones to see that the UK public is a very willing audience for new technology.
So we are well placed to capitalise on this position going forward.
Additionally though, when we look at countries and regions with which we have close economic relationships, like Japan, the Middle East and Asia, there are some amazing partnerships to be forged in order that we can get more global consensus on how these services could be delivered to market.
Obviously, you’re on the frontline of the development of CAM technology. What’s your feeling on what our roads will look like in 10 years’ time?
Well, I’m not going to say there’s going to be jet packs.
But there’s a real opportunity that in 10 years’ time, we’ll see visible large-scale deployments of connected automated services running on our roads, whether that be trains or convoys of heavy goods vehicles down our motorways, pod and robo taxi services being delivered within our cities. And I certainly think there will be last-mile automated freight services being rolled out in our cities as well.
That’s the opportunity but it’s going to be a mixed environment and personally, I’m probably going to be driving my classic car for another few years yet.
I think anything bought in the next couple of years is still going to be on the road for a good long while.