Commercialising automated mobility
While there have been many proof-of-concepts around self-driving vehicles, there’s been less reported on how these systems might be used by industry as part of a commercial operation, to speed up production processes and/or reduce carbon emissions.
To explore this aspect more, last year the UK Government, through its Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) body, launched a Commercialising Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) competition.
Match funding from industry raised the public grant to around £81 million and participating projects are expected to demonstrate a sustainable commercial service by 2025.
An additional £600K has also been allocated for feasibility studies to look at potential routes where automated vehicles might operate exclusively.
Through the fund CCAV – which was formed in 2015 to work with industry and academia – hopes to stimulate growth and has predicted that connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technology could create nearly 40,000 skilled jobs by 2035.
This is predicated on forecasts of 40% of new UK car sales having self-driving capabilities, with a total market value for connected and automated mobility wort £41.7bn to the UK.
The government claims that self-driving zero-emission electric or hydrogen powered vehicles could also revolutionise cargo transport by reducing the cost of drivers, eliminating driver shortage and making routes predictable and consistent for ‘just-in-time’ processes (the logistics lingo for when goods are received from suppliers only as they are needed).
Here, TechInformed looks at three beneficiaries of the fund, which typically comprises of partnerships between academia and several commercial companies with common interests and complimentary tech specialisms.
Some of these firms are quite far down the line with earlier self-driving projects and the leaders of each project were clear about their business goals as well as the challenges they faced.
As well as delivering efficiencies in the logistics sector, it is hoped that autonomous HGVs could speed up the decarbonisation of heavy vehicles and reduce the substantial carbon footprint of road haulage.
The Hub2Hub Consortium Project aims to do just this. Led by retailer Asda, Glasgow’s Hydrogen Vehicle Systems (HVS) and automated driving systems provider Fusion Processing, the project was the recipient of over £13m in matched funding.
“We are engineering the world’s first autonomous hydrogen-electric powered HGV to demonstrate hub-to-hub logistics, to elevate public perception, showcasing the potential autonomy we can deliver thanks to increased safety and fuel savings, and develop new business models,” says HVS CEO Jawad Khursheed.
The autonomous software for the trucks will be provided by Bristol’s Fusion Processing, whose CAVStar system combines vision systems, AI and route planning.
The platform allows full autonomy to be swapped out with onboard or teleoperated driver control at predetermined points along a route, with the HGV self-driving between hubs and human drivers taking over when the vehicle nears its destination.
“Our market analysis indicates that the commercial vehicle segments such as haulage are where we will see autonomous vehicle technology first used in large scale deployments,” adds Fusion Processing CEO Jim Hutchinson.
Asda senior fleet manager Sean Clifton adds that the introduction of carbon-footprint friendly vehicles would have a big impact on the retail giant’s carbon footprint.
“We will continue to work with like-minded partners on projects such as this to reduce our impact on the environment,” he says.
V-CAL, led by the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA), is part of an existing project to maintain business competitiveness in the region and, in particular, for car maker Nissan which employs 70,000 people directly and indirectly in the local area.
The project will run up to f zero-emission battery powered autonomous HGVs on private roads owned by Nissan Sunderland.
“The project builds on an initial connected and automated logistics (CAL) proof of concept and is part of a long-term logistics plan to retain competitiveness for Nissan,” explains NEAA chief exec Paul Butler.
“For the North East more widely, we are looking to establish an innovation centre for CAL to attract more companies into the region,” he adds.
The work, in partnership with Nissan, Newcastle University, logistics firm Vantec, autonomy provider StreetDrone, network provider Nokia, smart city network protector ANGOKA, and law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, has been awarded £4 million by government, matched by industry to a total £8m.
On one route, between the car plant and its main warehouse operated by Vantec, 40- tonne ‘freight tractors’ will operate without any personnel on board but will be monitored by a remote safety driver as backup – which, in terms of driving automation is classified as ‘Level 4 SAE’.
According to Butler there are already more than 300 indoor and outdoor auto guided vehicles (AGV) on the plant.
He says, “Critical success factors are to match the current provision which Vantec has in terms of flexibility, to integrate with Nissan’s existing AGVs, to have one remote driver supervise three autonomous HGVs and for a commercially viable system that gives Vantec an alternative solution for logistics.”
A potential challenge for Vantec, Butler adds, is a shortage of drivers: “With a ‘just-in-time’ operations this becomes hugely problematic if parts aren’t delivered in time,” he says.
The private road between warehouse and plant is 3km and contains few hurdles that autonomous vehicles travelling at 10mph (top speeds of 25mph) should easily be able to navigate.
Having trialled one vehicle for the PoC, the next step is to scale up to two by end of 2023 then three HGVs.
Newcastle University is leading the remote driver supervision including assessing attention, response and eye gaze in a teleoperation rig.
Drivers employed at Vantec are being retrained for the role and are far from redundant in this driverless project. “The drivers are key part of the process and are providing a lot of good insight into how teleoperation should be set up and types of feedback they require,” Butler maintains.
The scheme will use a private 5G network where StreetDrone’s head of product and partnerships Ross James explains that the avoidance of downtime is the key issue.
“So, the vehicles have redundant modem kits and other failsafe mechanisms which means that if one part of the network goes down, we have that assurance that we can remote operate that vehicle,” he says.
A fourth self-driving HGV is planned to transport finished vehicles from Nissan to its pre-sale depot over a route which is private but more complex – involving security gates, roundabouts, bridges and more site traffic.
According to Butler, a fully autonomous system will be deployed in this scenario where delivery is not production critical.
“The next natural step is to automate delivery from near side suppliers of which there are about 12 within two miles of Nissan and five of those have private roads. That is the scale of the opportunity for us, not just Vantec or the finished vehicles, but to automate on further private road settings,” he says.
Achieving this will be a major step towards deploying the technology on public roads and this is where Womble Bond Dickinson will play a key role in advising the V-CAL of legislation in this area.
Another local project to receive CCAV funding in the area is the Sunderland Advanced Mobility Shuttle which will increase connectivity on public roads for passengers between rail and bus depots to the city’s Royal Hospital and University Campus.
Another CCAV recipient of £15.2m in funding is the Multi-Area Connected Automated Mobility (MACAM) project, developing driverless shuttles in the West Midlands area,
MACAM will establish passenger and logistics routes between Coventry railway station and the city’s university campus and another between Birmingham International Station, Birmingham Business Park and the NEC.
Both will be run by a single operations centre developed by a regional consortium and led by driverless vehicle company Conigital.
“These will be fixed routes operating a dynamic schedule depending on demand,” explains Tom Robinson, CTO, Conigital.
“This will be part of an integrated transport solution to reduce traffic and emissions and reduce dependency on professional drivers.
“Our system also provides information about other transport services. The intent is you could do an end-to-end journey and our system will tell you what you need to do for different transport loads and to book aspects of those journeys in an integrated manner.
“It’s a very distinct shift towards mobility-as-a-service that leverages self-driving vehicles.”
According to Robinson, there’s a 10% driver shortfall in the region which is impacting existing private fleet operators “significantly” in terms of operational performance. Operators also pay around £2,500 every time they recruit a new driver.
The scheme also looks forward to the arrival of the HS2 train line from London (due between 2035-2040) when an integrated self-driving solution will alleviate the anticipated 76% growth in private car use. That’s on top of the existing 14,300 daily trips made around Birmingham Business Park and the NEC.
MACAM will utilise 13 vehicles of two types: a 5/7-seater and a larger 15/16-seater fitted with Conigital’s automated driving software.
The Remote Monitoring and Tele-Operation (RMTO) service, run by Transport for West Midlands, will monitor the vehicles using 5G technology and take control if necessary.
“The RMTO provides the pathway to Level 4 self-driving capability [self-driving in defined operating design domains without human supervision being required] and will eventually remove the need for an onboard supervisor entirely,” Robinson explains.
This will be tested in three phases, beginning next year, culminating in an extended trial across both locations, transitioning from having engineer supervisors on board to eventually operating without a driver in the vehicle.
“We are strongly targeting a 5G sliced public network which means we have the assurance and performance of the 5G. You don’t want the uncertainty of high latency. With a less than 100ms round trip you can safely monitor and control remote driving,” says Robinson.
Other partners on the project include Direct Line Group, the University of Warwick, Coventry University, dRisk and IPG Automotive.
“We know there’s a commercial business case for operators,” says Robinson. “The extra cost of putting technology in the vehicles is offset by reducing human operator cost. We will have a 5-1 monitoring relationship which we know we can achieve, based on work we’ve already done.
“Following this trial, we hope to expand from these two locations and continue services beyond the project on a fully commercial basis,” he adds.
Coventry City Council has said the technology would be transferable to its battery powered ‘very light’ railway scheme in development.
Conigital, autonomous driving safety firm dRISK and engineering firm IPG Automotive are also involved with Stagecoach in a scheme to pilot 13 on-demand self-driving taxis within parts of Cambridge University’s campus, including the Biomedical facility.
“The aim is to provide additional passenger carrying capacity to connect two Park and Rides with the Biomed campus,” explains Robinson.
“The Cambridge Connector and MACAM might seem superficially similar, but the operational design domain is different. Although the Cambridge Connector operates within defined areas, you need to plan for all sorts of public interactions ranging from student going to school, to passengers at bus stops, ambulances, wheelchair and walking frame users.”
In its drive to advance autonomous driving systems in industry and smart cities, CCAV has announced a second funding round which launches this week (25 May). UK-registered organisations can apply for a share of up to £900,000 for feasibility studies into the use of connected and automated mobility as a mass transit solution.
Other CCAV funded projects include the UK’s first self-driving bus service from Ferrytoll Park & Ride in Fife to Edinburgh Park interchange, which we reported on last week.
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