Safety, society and economy: the benefits of CAVs to the UK
Daniel Ruiz, CEO at Zenzic (formerly Meridian), talks to Intelligent Transport about connected and self-driving vehicles (CAVs) in the UK and explains why the country is well-placed to take advantage of the social and economic benefits they can provide.
What do you think of the potential of the UK to benefit from so-called connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) in the future? Do the best chances of fulfilling the potential lie with shared-mobility solutions?
The future of transport in the UK is bright because we are building on very strong foundations. The Government made an early move in the global movement by setting up a dedicated team assembled from the Departments for Transport (DfT) and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). This Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) has been shaping our policy and regulatory activity for the past three years. The collaboration between DfT and BEIS is quite a unique combination – if you go around the world there are very few silo-busting entities like this.
We are also building on a foundation of world-class testing facilities and a pretty broad skills base in the significant number of control systems companies and innovators in the UK.
Do the best chances for CAVs achieving their potential lie with shared-mobility solutions?
I think we have to consider the “solutions” as different business models; we can’t deliver transport in the way we used to. Transport used to be bike, car, taxi, train, bus. Now it’s broken down way beyond those five, into bike, scooter, e-scooter, coach, minibuses, mobility as a service (MaaS), traditional bus services, bus companies competing on the same routes, multiple train companies, etc: a plethora of different modes of transport. The business models around these are becoming more complicated.
I think we’re going through a period of confusion, but MaaS – which covers a multitude of sins – has to be part of the way forward. It is moving the point of payment closer to the customer and making it a service rather than something that is dependent on a specific mode or vehicle.
Some people define MaaS as what we are already seeing: a plethora of smart mobility solutions. Do you disagree with that definition?
What we are seeing at the moment is a lot of mobility options that you access through different apps – slightly chaotic, but it is a starting point! We are making progress in MaaS and CAV separately and at different rates but they will converge. Connectivity and the flow of data are what join the two.
We are going to make progress towards the adoption of CAVs along the path of least resistance, and if we can make it accessible and affordable to people it will further reduce the resistance. Before we sell vehicles and commercial services there are a number of other factors to consider though, including how easy it is to get your vehicle certified. How easy is it to build that balance between investment and return? I personally think that connected and automated services are initially most likely to be deployed in geofenced areas and situations: campuses, ports and motorway freight platoons, for example.
There are also human factors that need to be addressed. Education is needed in recognition of the fact that these vehicles respond in different ways, so people must respond differently too. And then we need to implement rules and regulations that protect both the travelling and adjacent public.
How important is it for policymakers to enable CAV testing over the coming years?
Absolutely fundamental. The progress any country has made is a direct function of the regulatory environment that is shaped by policymakers and which then needs to be proven.
In the UK we have new regulations, a code of practice (which has just been updated) and a fairly clear set of policies that are immensely helpful. These have spawned the investment in testing and development led by Zenzic, and the investment put into collaborative R&D via CCAV. This combination of a world-leading testing environment and extensive R&D means the UK is amongst the frontrunners in this space. We have the potential to reap the benefits sooner than other countries.
In my opinion, the focus for all our work is on the social and economic benefits underpinned by safety. A subset of these benefits are the commercial outcomes for the companies that invest and participate. But without the development of testing and testbeds we won’t be able to validate CAV technology in the UK. This would prevent us from demonstrating technologies are safe – which is paramount – and therefore they wouldn’t be adopted.
I am CEO of Zenzic because I believe investing in CAV technology is the right thing to be doing. The £100 million the government has put in to and the £100 million the industry has committed to building the development ecosystem in the UK is money that is being well spent.
Would you say there is almost a race on between countries – and perhaps even cities – to perfect the role out of CAVs? If so, what might the advantages be of winning that race?
There is a race, but it is an interesting one as both countries and companies are saying safety is the most important factor.
In 2018, I visited Bavaria, Michigan, Singapore and Japan, and they all share the view that safety is the most important thing and that collaboration is needed in order to make sure this stays at the forefront. It was a little surprising to hear that from countries trying to bolster their automotive industries, but it is encouraging; it says there is a bit of soul in this agenda and it is not totally political or economic.
That said, if you can be at the forefront of safety, you are likely to be at the forefront of reaping the social and economic benefits, and so there is a race. Zenzic is responsible for ensuring we are creating the organisations and communities in the UK that enable us to stay ahead. We do this through collaboration, with healthy competition and obviously no collusion: collaborate whilst maintaining the competitive drive but do it with probity.
Every geographic location has different needs. Singapore, for example, is investing in CAV technology to help deal with its social issues. Michigan is focused on its automotive industry – they want to be at the forefront of this revolution because it means their industry will thrive.
We have an interesting challenge in the UK because we are all of the above. We are a relatively small island, densely populated, with a good automotive industry and a diverse geography.
What insight can you provide into some of the initiatives that Zenzic is involved with at the moment?
Zenzic was launched in September 2017, and we have since then contracted and started six major projects with 28 organisations. Five of these are focused on building additional functionality in existing test centres/tes beds: HORIBA MIRA in Nuneaton; and Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) around the Birmingham Ring; Millbrook at their test track in Bedfordshire and RACE in Culham; TRL and its consortium in the Smart Mobility Living Lab in London; and also with Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground in their partnership with Applus+ IDIADA in Leicestershire. Those projects are enhancing what they already have for traditional transport and traditional vehicles; they vary from the high-speed, highly-controlled environment for edge cases at HORIBA MIRA, through to public domain testing in Greenwich with the Smart Living Mobility Lab. So we are creating what is demonstrably the most comprehensive, integrated and accessible testbed in the world – they’re all within a three-hour drive of each other, which is unprecedented. The fact that the UK is building on facilities that are already highly professional and highly mature positions us way ahead of our competitors.
The sixth Zenzic project is focusing on data sharing. Data sharing is not simply about distributing information freely, because that just wouldn’t work, and hasn’t worked, but it is one of the challenges of CAVs and MaaS. How do you persuade companies to share their data in a way that can add value to other businesses? Historically they haven’t had the visibility to see how it will benefit their own businesses, so why would they share?
A Bosch-led consortium is developing a data marketplace, focused on how companies like Jaguar-Land Rover (who are investing in the project) can share their vehicle data and benefit from it, whilst the whole ecosystem also benefits. This moves us towards a more mobile future and is a really exciting project with an investment of around £9 million.
These are the projects already in motion for Zenzic, but we are also working on strategic roadmaps. What does industry, academia and government need to do for us to progress at an optimal rate? Where can the UK channel its efforts into autonomy and connectivity?
Connectivity is probably a bigger issue than autonomy because it is connectivity that allows data to flow and opens us up to malign behaviour of hackers and others. We will not be able to engage the public and get them to embrace the technology if they feel insecure. We need to work on this through our research and also through clear and objective communications.
And here, I think there may be some issues around how we can make sure it remains an apolitical agenda. It is unequivocally about safety and some don’t realise this and start to grandstand about it in a way that is detrimental to the safety agenda. And this safety agenda will be best delivered based in accordance with a roadmap that the whole sector adopts.
The UK Connected and Automated Roadmap to 2030 considers and involves everything Zenzic is working on; an aggregation of key activities, building on a foundation of what already exists: we’re not reinventing any wheels. There has been good work in the past from the Automotive Council on their roadmap for CAVs, and the Automotive Electronic Systems Innovation Network (AESIN) have a roadmap with us as well. Work by the SMMT, ERTICO and others have also been used.
The range of technical and social elements is referred to within the roadmap that we’re working on for launch in September. This work will be updated and reissued on a rolling basis and used as a tool so the industry can target its investments wisely, whilst the government can evolve and implement its policies.
There was a transport revolution before, when we moved from horses to road vehicles and the internal combustion engine came in. There have been other revolutions – the IT revolution, the knowledge revolution; now comes the ‘mobility revolution’. It isn’t specific to transport or vehicles though – it is societal.
What I worry about is that although we’ve done great work to get to where we are now, any hiatus could mean investments are stopped. We could start again in a year, but a pause of even just one year would be disastrous for the UK.
Zenzic is in a fantastic position with half our funding from government and half from industry. We are sandwiched between the two and hold hands with both. It will get harder as we get closer to deployment but if we play things the right way, for the right reasons, at the right time, then we are at the beginning of what can be a transformational period which benefits us all.
Daniel Ruiz joined Meridian Mobility UK Ltd, now Zenzic, as CEO in January 2018, leading the UK’s £100 million connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) programme. Zenzic is the UK’s hub for testing and development of CAVs, established in September 2017 with funding from industry and government to accelerate the uptake of CAV technologies and to exploit their social and economic potential.