Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: Meeting the needs of our citizens

In less than two years, trials for self-driving vehicles for the public, are due to begin in the UK and in just 15 years, Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) could form the majority of cars on our roads. Driverless cars are on their way.

It's no surprise then, that CAV technology is top of the agenda globally, and, as you'd expect, we're determined that the West Midlands takes a leading role in this automotive revolution.

Here at Transport for West Midlands (part of the West Midlands Combined Authority) we see CAV's as a likely future and as the West Midlands is renowned for our world class automotive innovation, we are keen to ensure that these vehicles are well suited and meet the needs of our citizens.

The Society of American Engineers, Levels of Automation (SAE) call Level 5 the 'holy grail' - go-anywhere, anytime vehicles - something which every CAV technology company is racing towards. Companies such as Waymo (Google) and Tesla are global leaders in the field of autonomous vehicle research, but others are catching up fast.

In the West Midlands, globally recognised and powerful companies are at the forefront of our autonomous vehicle technologies. Jaguar Land Rover, Aurrigo and Westfield Sports Cars are making enormous strides in the research, development and deployment of autonomous vehicles. In fact, such is the reputation of our region many other global technology developers are choosing to base their R&D activities for CAV, in the West Midlands.

CAV's as a technology is predicted to bring a safer road network for both pedestrians and road users, give senior and disabled citizens the accessibility and freedom to go about their lives and enable efficiencies in the operation of road vehicles, leading to reduced congestion, CO2 emissions, travel times and costs. However, these benefits will only occur when vehicle manufacturers, infrastructure providers and technology companies work together.

Successful collaboration is dependent on sharing of data. One challenge is to develop a framework that allows live and historic vehicle data to be shared while safeguarding personal information. So we are looking at these issues in detail as part of the Innovate UK funded ConVEx project, which is creating a data sharing repository.

Another big challenge is the management of shared use environments where natural human interactions –such as the negotiation between driver and pedestrian around things like crossing the road - are replaced with human to machine interaction. rightly so, safety is often the focus, but there are a wide range of other issues to be resolved, such as how autonomous vehicles give way to each other and how they interact with pedestrians. One of TfWM aims is to improve the transport infrastructure of the region for the benefit of our citizens. So we're also looking at the many economic, environmental and infrastructure problems that must be overcome to adopt CAV on the road. We're thinking about how CAV will become a cost effective and scalable solution, how it will impact on the transport environment and if, in the future, our roads will only have CAVs using them. There's a massive challenge in thinking about the changes we have to make across our transport networks so that CAV's can operate safely and efficiently and how our residents will interact with them. In the industry currently there is a great deal of focus on technical solutions, but more concentration is required on the softer human factors issues, which will ultimately determine adoption rates and business models.

We are actively engaged with a huge network of innovative companies around the globe in a range of innovative CAV projects to do this. Most notably, Midlands Future Mobility is instrumenting more than 100 miles of 'real world' roads in Coventry, Solihull and Birmingham for CAV developers to not only come and test their new technology, but to bring their manufacturing operations with them. This is continuing to create a cluster effect that is establishing the West Midlands as a premier location for CAV-related organisations and companies, further strengthening the region's global reputation as a hub for innovation.

By active involvement in the development of this technology, we are working collaboratively to answer the key questions necessary to ensure CAV's are safe, sustainable and fit for the purposes of our citizens.

In the end, though, our goal is simple. We want to be confident that CAV technology works - and we're proving this through our demonstrator, research and development projects. We're also working with Government and others to ensure that these new mobility services are proven as safe, affordable and work with the people and places they serve.

Looking to the future, we've made a bid to host the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress in 2024. ITS World Congress attracts the biggest and brightest companies from around the world to showcase their most innovative transport system creations and will be a golden opportunity to showcase all the work we are doing here, not only in the West Midlands, but the rest of the UK.

Find out more on what Transport for West Midlands Innovation team are doing here.

Laura Shoaf, Managing Director, Transport for West Midlands