The Committee was hearing evidence from Claire Depré, Head of Sustainable and Intelligent at the European Commission; Dr Hermann Meyer, Chief Executive Officer, ERTICO - ITS Europe, an organization that promotes research and defines intelligent transportation industry standards; and Mike Hawes, Chief Executive Officer of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
Members of the committee were told that whilst the road to ‘fully autonomous’ vehicles could be a long one - where there isn’t even a steering wheel in the car - there is likely to be an evolutionary approach to the technology, whereby partially automated systems are gradually introduced.
That being said, whilst giving evidence, Hawes estimated that fully automated vehicles would be on the road by 2030.
Cross-market and cross-vehicle interoperability was highlighted through the session. This is a particularly thorny topic, as there will be so many different stakeholders at play - for example, local authorities, public transport providers, on-board technology system providers and vehicle manufacturers.
Dr Meyer highlighted:
Vehicles cross borders, people cross borders, and they expect a seamless experience with respect to driving their vehicles and travelling. With respect to automated vehicles, there are technical complexities, organisational complexities and there are regulations.
Our aim is to achieve one market. It means that we establish interoperability of the technologies. It means that in the context of technology we have a situation where the technology which is on board in the vehicles in Belgium, Germany and UK is the same. And can also provide the same communication values.
Representing the UK automotive industry, Hawes agreed and said:
The issue of interoperability is a valid one and is significant. For a number of reasons. In terms of functionality, you want the vehicles to be able to operate - but also in terms of the consumer. The level of expectation that they have around mobility is that they can take their car and travel anywhere without any hindrance.
That’s something we need to assure for the future. This is a massive opportunity for growth, and it’s important that the UK sees these technologies flourish for the benefit of transport, for the benefit of industry and for the benefit of consumer and society.
How will the market develop?
The European Commission’s representative, Claire Depre, said that the EC is working on a strategy that will be released in the next few weeks, which will look at how these technologies are deployed. However, she also added that in terms of market developments, she would “love to have a crystal ball”. She said:
I think we are all in the same situation. We see that transport is getting transformed in an evolutionary path, not a revolution.
And as Hawes highlighted, there are still “huge swathes” of the population that drive because they like driving. And particularly in the UK, where automotive manufacturers tend to be high-end luxury car designers, this shift to fully autonomous may be resisted somewhat. That being said, there are other areas where fully driverless cars will appeal. Hawes said:
You’re not going to go from what we have today and then in five years time be fully autonomous. This is a step by step development.But what you will see is vehicles being connected to other vehicles, connected to infrastructure, facilitating those other aspects.
What we are already seeing is some trials of platooning HGVs. We believe that HGVs will be one of the first elements of road transport that will take advantage of some of these technologies, because you are very interested in what your pence per mileage is. You can also maximise the capacity on the existing road network, by having vehicles travelling closer together. If the vehicles are connected to each other, you can potentially move them closer and get greater capacity.
However, Dr Meyer was eager to point out that full automation is the end-game for most, which could have profound effects on how we utilise the transport system in future - where we could see a shift form owning our own personal vehicles, to vehicles on demand. He said:
Fully automated vehicles will be a game changer. Because once you introduce fully automated vehicles, you can introduce things like mobility as a service, where you don’t have a driver anymore. You will be able to call your vehicle, your vehicle will turn up, pick you up and drive you to your place. The differentiation between individual transport and public transport might also then disappear.
We are certainly moving towards a service orientated society. And if you look at the future of automated vehicles, you will have situations where there will be service providers who own these automated vehicles. And then users will take the service of using these automated vehicles. And that might also have an impact on the issue of car ownership.
But when we talk about fully automated vehicles - when we talk about the last level of automation, where you don’t have a steering wheel, that is far in the future.
TestingAll members giving evidence to the Committee spoke about the importance of testing, particularly in terms of collaboration across all European member states to ensure that the region is working towards the same goal. Dr Meyer said:
We would like to develop a European test bed. What it means is that currently looking at the existing test beds in Europe, there are a lot that already exist - they are on motorways, but also cities - and we would like to create a situation where these test beds cooperate with each other.
They cooperate with each other in the context of the use cases, and they cooperate with each other in the context of the technologies and the organisation frameworks. What we want to avoid is fragmentation and silos. Most important thing for the future of automation are economies of scales. We have to move in the same direction - and that we can do with a European test bed.
He added that the testing is an attempt to “second guess” everything that can occur, with the most important thing being “safety, safety, safety”. Dr Meyer added:
We need these test beds. We need to test the systems in all different situations and we are learning enormously, because we have machine learning capabilities. And we want to ensure safety.
[One of the main challenges] is cyber security, [so that] in the future, the systems, especially with the connectivity, they cannot be hacked. There is a lot of work going on in the context of the different technologies. We believe that this can be dealt with. But this will be an ongoing challenge, because it’s not the case with cyber security that once you’ve fixed it you’ve fixed it forever. You have to work on it continuously.
Finally, Hawes highlighted the challenge that faces the UK with regard to the technology skills gap. Whilst he said that driverless vehicles will inevitably lead to some job losses, as a result of the automation, the connectivity and data that these autonomous vehicles create will also lead to a huge amount of job creation. He said:
We need to distinguish between autonomous vehicles and connected vehicles - and the growth we will see is around connectivity. [There are] potential benefits to GDP and the monetisation of that is to do with the connected vehicle.
The autonomous vehicle is about efficiency, productivity. But in terms of jobs, with any new technology there is invariably a shift in the type of jobs and skills that are required. As you might expect, we have got a big skills gap in this area.
But we see the development of the connected vehicle, and all the data that will generate, which is of huge interest to other sectors of the economy, creating jobs in that area.