30 Mar 2022

Guest blog: The real disruption to mobility is just getting started 

Guest blog by Michael Sequeria, Technology Manager, The Technology Partnership 

Significant attention is being paid to the impact electrification will have on the future of mobility. No doubt this is true. But the mobility revolution is only just starting, and the real disruption is yet to come... 

Electrification – the first step into future mobility 

Phase one has been the ‘electrification’ of ground transportation aiming to reduce dependency on the internal combustion engine (i.e. ‘e-mobility’). Technology and incentives to support this transition are well underway. Ranging from an ever-growing network of smart, fast-charging infrastructure; significant growth in consumer adoption of EVs; increasing investment and cross-industry collaboration aimed at re-enforcing the power grid; and regulatory incentives and governmental support. 

Self-driving vehicles – the true disruption 

Whilst this is exciting, a second phase of innovation is set to overtake it: the gradual adoption of increasingly sophisticated autonomous platforms within future vehicles ('self-driving vehicles’). While significant investment and numerous innovation efforts are focused on delivering safe, reliable self-driving vehicles, the technology and legal framework is still in its infancy.  

The technology challenge  

The UK’s first multi-city autonomous vehicle trial, carried out by the DG Cities in February 2022, revealed that 55% of respondents would not feel comfortable using a self-driving car, with safety cited as a key concern.  

TTP is developing enabling technologies designed to help address these concerns. Vital to this is the advancement of automotive sensors including cameras, both to recognise objects outside of the vehicle, and to detect driver drowsiness or distraction. Other sensors (short and long-range radar, ultrasonic sensors and LiDAR) will also improve safety. For these hardware solutions, introducing edge computing into AV sensors accelerates compute times, acquiring better data and reducing cost implementation of Simultaneous Location and Mapping (SLAM) to distinguish absolute from relative motion. These ‘Smart sensors’ use SLAM to process sensor point clouds in real-time, providing object information and a reduced number of more informative points to a Neural Network which can classify objects in the data. 

Then there is high bandwidth, low-latency, communication architectures that connect vehicles to each other, help prevent collisions and allow vehicles to safely operate. 

AI is being used to process huge amounts of data, helping with image recognition, motion detection, voice and speech recognition. High-definition maps that do more than allow you to navigate by representing the world at a greater resolution will increase the spatial and contextual awareness of AVs.  

The legislative challenge 

The legal framework around self-driving vehicles – and liability in the event of an incident - must also keep pace with the technology.   

In anticipation of future technology development, and to provide manufacturers with more clarity enroute to market, a UK legal review (link) has defined what it means for a vehicle to be “self-driving” and the ramifications for the user and manufacturer. If the proposals are implemented, operators of AVs will become “users in charge”, manufacturers will become accountable as part of a new regulatory system that assures safety, and AVs will need to become, essentially, ‘uncrashable’. For the customer, the proposal is an attractive proposition. If the “self-driving” features are engaged, the “user in charge” would no longer face prosecution for violations by the vehicle of a wide range of traffic rules from dangerous driving, to speeding or running a red light. 

To count as “self-driving”, cars would need to able to drive safely even if the user is not monitoring the road, although the car may still issue a timely “transition demand” and expect them to re-engage. In terms of the SAE Levels (link), we can think of “self-driving” as Level 3. This is a demanding threshold. While manufacturers now have clarity on what is required to develop and sell millions of AVs, automated driving features will need to pass authorisation for use by a new regulator, who will need to be satisfied that technology integrated in a vehicle meets a safe “self-driving” threshold. 

If we can align the technology and legislation to deliver safe and reliable self-driving vehicles, they could become a reality in the next decade. The biggest disruption to mobility is just around the corner.  

Further reading from TTP: 

Blog: Are uncrashable cars moving from an ambition to a necessity? 

Blog: Building the "perfect" MEMS mirror for next-generation lidar – what have we learned? 

Blog: Interview: Dr Christopher Borroni-Bird, founder of Afreecar, on autonomous driving and connectivity 




Michael Sequeria, Technology Manager, The Technology Partnership as part of techUK's Future of Mobility Campaign Week

To read more from Future of Mobility Campaign Week check out our landing page here.