Urgent action needed to make cities ready for autonomous vehicles

Atkins, as part of VENTURER, is trialling autonomous vehicles to explore the feasibility of driverless cars in the UK.

There is an urgent need to understand the full impact of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) on cities around the world and to invest in adapted infrastructure now, according to a white paper series launched this week by Atkins.

Members of the Atkins Fellowship from across the world are meeting this week with clients and government in a technical conference to discuss the future of cities and how they will be impacted by the advent of CAVs. The event, part of a broader Intelligent Mobility week, will analyse the topic around four key themes: Infrastructure, energy, data and public perception.    

Neil Thomas, Atkins’ technical director, said: “It is no longer a question of ‘if’ CAVs will be on our roads, it is ‘when’. Greater connectivity and autonomy will have a profound impact on our road, energy and communication networks. We need to determine what upgrades will be required to make our existing infrastructure smarter, and what basic principles need to be adhered to in all future design. We have the technical skills and knowledge to do this. What we’re missing is a single vision of the future and the unified approach required to realise it.”

The challenge, says Thomas, is to bring all major stakeholders together to agree priorities, and find a universal platform and approach that could underpin all future work. The research suggests that discussion should focus on four main areas:

Infrastructure: Governments around the world are investing in transport infrastructure to add badly needed capacity, and improve safety, efficiency and user experience. CAVs are part of the solution, moving us closer to achieving these aims. What action should we take now to ensure that current infrastructure is adapted and future upgrades are fit for purpose to accommodate CAVs and enable economic growth for many years to come?

Energy: How can CAVs help us to meet the energy challenges of the future? In the UK it is estimated that 60 per cent of new cars on the road in 15 years’ time will need to be electric to meet the Government’s carbon reduction targets. And yet, a sharp rise in the number of electric vehicles on our road could lead to increased demand on the grid at peak times. CAVs — combined with a new approach to mobility — could help us find balance.

Data: In a more connected world CAVs will form part of the ‘Internet of Things’, generating vast volumes of data. What challenges do we need to overcome to turn that data into information and valuable insight that will help network and city operators maximise efficiency and drive improvement across our transport network? How can we share and collaborate with big data to build a more sustainable, technology enabled future powered by big data?

Public perception: Advocates of CAVs promise their introduction will bring wide-ranging benefits to individuals and communities. But are these vehicles being designed with people in mind? What questions should we be asking to help us ensure this new technology makes a positive difference to our lives?

Autonomy and new technology-enabled business models are not just changing the way people see the vehicle, they also have the potential to transform the way people move around, and enjoy, streets and spaces. ‘Intelligent Mobility’ shifts the focus away from the provision of a relatively inflexible service that people can take or leave and instead puts users at the heart of the offering.

Lila Tachtsi, director, transport asset management at Atkins, said: “As we connect CAVs with our city infrastructure we must recognise that the challenge is not just about technology, about data, about the user, not just about infrastructure – it is about getting them to work all together.

“Change is being driven by the need to plan for rapid urbanisation, meet ambitious carbon reduction targets and by the shift in the way people engage with services. We’re already moving towards a more connected future. We need to maintain that momentum by encouraging authorities and providers to work together to maximise the opportunities, and to take action now.”

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