Can you please tell us a bit about the DRIVEN autonomous vehicle project?
The project, DRIVEN, is one of the first trials of level 4 autonomous vehicles in the UK, where the driver does not need to watch the road or hold the steering wheel. The trial explores the real-time assessment frameworks essential for the legal and safe use of automated vehicles. The project will include six vehicles trialled in urban areas and on motorways between London and Oxford.
As part of a consortium working together on the project, Nominet will be providing trusted and secure data exchange for real-time transactions, including a framework for security and privacy, vital to future development of autonomous vehicles. The consortium is led by Oxbotica and other partners include Oxford Robotics Institute, XL Catlin, Telefonica O2 UK, TRL, the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s RACE, Oxfordshire County Council, TfL and Westbourne Communications. DRIVEN has received a grant worth £8.6m from Innovate UK.
The consortium’s 30-month project plan, which commenced in April 2017, will shake-up both the transportation and insurance industries by seeking to remove fundamental barriers to real-world commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles. Key challenges the consortium will address include: communication and data sharing between connected vehicles; Connected and Autonomous Vehicles insurance modelling: risk profiling and the new cybersecurity challenges that this amount of data sharing will bring.
Why get involved with a project like this?
The aim of Nominet’s Emerging Technology group is to look at the evolving internet and identify where Nominet will have a role to play in this technological future. The development of autonomous vehicles is particularly interesting at the moment as there are a number of commercial and public purpose opportunities in this sector.
Why is this an interesting area of technology for local authorities?
I think autonomous vehicles are going to happen regardless so it’s necessary for local authorities to engage. The technology is evolving to make it happen, so we have to embrace it and extract the benefits that the introduction of driverless technology will offer. For example, Government figures suggest that around 90% of all road accidents are caused by human error. If you can start to reduce accident numbers you boost safety, free up blue light resources and ease congestion.
There are also a tremendous amount of opportunities created by autonomous vehicle technology. The key thing to remember here is that we’re talking about something different to current vehicles. Autonomous vehicles are packed full of sensors that allow them to understand the world around them. They have cameras to help the robotics control the vehicle. They have lidar, which is a 3D laser scanning mechanism to help identify objects and to avoid obstacles, while radar is used for longer range detection. These unique technologies allow the car to build up a big data picture of the surroundings – which can be of benefit to the public sector if shared.
A very simple example might be that the vehicle identifies that some streetlights are out, which can help the council fix the issue more quickly. At a higher level, local transport authorities can use data from all the cars on the road to better understand what the network is doing in real time. They can use this data to coordinate the routes of the cars to ease congestion.
Are there any examples of how you’re data sharing with one of your partners on this project, Oxfordshire County Council?
We’re approaching the midway point of the project and so far we’ve been focusing on collecting basic information such as vehicle positioning and status. This data has been supplied to Oxfordshire County Council to support their Urban Traffic Management Control (UTMC) system. This allows the council to monitor the vehicles as they travel around the county. The next steps will be to look at how we can fully integrate into their systems and do more with the rich pool of data being developed.
Are there plans for data sharing on a wider basis, say from council to council, to create a total data network?
While it’s not part of the DRIVEN remit, it is something we’re looking into so that we can understand the potential impact that sharing more autonomous vehicle data would have on the national road network. This is undoubtedly a challenge as current management of the road network in the UK is fragmented. Understanding how each local transport authority operates and what their systems are is crucial to make it work. We’re interested in how we could bring everything together.
Is there an infrastructure issue around the growth of autonomous vehicles and the development of networks?
It’s interesting, as the DRIVEN vehicles don’t actually need communications infrastructure to operate because of the way the technology has been built, however, if you want the car to be able to exchange and share data, you definitely need the infrastructure! Currently, the 3G/4G networks are what we operate on across the UK and part of the DRIVEN project is to identify any communications black spots and understand how the vehicle will operate for prolonged periods without any strategic commands.
Ultimately, when we need to start exchanging lots of data, we must have good, ubiquitous communications infrastructure that is capable of high bandwidth communications. A move to 5G is crucial. Whilst 4G won’t hold back the implementation of DRIVEN, there needs to be infrastructure investment to allow us to access the next level of benefits from data sharing.
You’re also working with TfL who are well known for sharing open data. What role are they taking in the project?
While a lot of testing is taking place within Oxfordshire at the moment, the next stage of the project will see testing in London in close collaboration with TfL. It already has a whole host of open data that we will be able to incorporate into the data sharing system we are currently building.
What can other authorities learn from what you’re doing?
There is much to gain from the level of data sharing we are exploring as part of DRIVEN. For example, if a vehicle is seeing a green light but the traffic management system says it’s red, something needs to be investigated. Could it be a cyber security incident or another data integrity problem?
To enable local authorities to have access in this way, we need to look beyond the various trials across the country and consider how we can scale it up to work across multiple systems and multiple suppliers. That’s the big challenge. It also raises the spectre of regulation, which is starting to take shape in the form of the recently passed Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018. This is a good start, but this will need to evolve to allow for the level of data sharing required to get the most out of autonomous vehicles.
Finally, when do you think autonomous vehicles will become commonplace on UK roads?
The answer changes weekly! The UK Government is aiming for 2021 for the legal framework to be in place, but realistically, I think we’re looking at 2025 onwards. Realistically, it’s down to the automotive manufacturers and what they can achieve.