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Connected mobility How real-time location data is fuelling the future of transport

The privately owned car transformed our societies in a way that came to define the 20th century, and Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) are starting to overhaul mobility all over again.

Ride-sharing and on-demand services are changing how we use the vehicles of today, while autonomous vehicles look set to replace them entirely.

At the same time, electric scooters and so-called hoverboards are changing how we get around cities, and battery powered cars are challenging the suffocating dominance of their fossil-fuel burning predecessors.

Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs)

Cars are already driving themselves on our roads.

Tesla vehicles can steer, change lanes and park themselves, while Google’s autonomous car project, Waymo, is now accepting passengers in Phoenix, Arizona.

On-demand and autonomous buses have also made their debut.

In March an autonomous coach was tested in Manchester, while in Oxford an on-demand bus is already in service.

Fully autonomous cars will be tested on UK roads before the end of 2019, and Singapore is testing a full-sized electric autonomous bus that is also expected to hit public roads before the end of the year.

As autonomous vehicles begin to get to grips with our roads, they must first learn to operate in a mixed environment with human drivers.

The digital infrastructure necessary for when autonomous vehicles become the majority on our roads is already starting to take shape.

Computer vision

Autonomous vehicles “see” other vehicles and pedestrians using a branch of artificial intelligence (AI) known as computer vision.

Because they will be connected to the internet, autonomous vehicles will be able to share what they see with other vehicles in real-time in a way that human drivers can’t.

This would allow them to see beyond their line of sight. For instance, if one autonomous vehicle detects an obstacle in the road that requires re-routing around, all the vehicles in the network can be alerted to this simultaneously and change course before they become stuck in traffic.

Connected environment

In the same way Apple and Samsung make rival smartphones that run on different operating systems but rely on common standards like SMS for text messaging, car manufacturers will need to agree on a common data infrastructure to exchange data effectively.

“The most effective solution is a single, universal set of standards for all autonomous vehicles to capture and disseminate data, including location data, supported by a single national system.” - Miranda Sharp, Innovation Director at Ordnance Survey.

Data scientists are already looking at ways of applying computer vision to existing infrastructure – the UK’s vast network of CCTV cameras – to extract and exchange real-time location data.

“Over the last five years we've seen huge improvements in computer vision,” says Richard Cartwright, founder of FlowX, a start-up that is harnessing a form of AI called deep learning to apply computer vision to existing CCTV cameras.

“Our systems can very easily classify objects and then count them as they're on the screen. Critically that builds this information layer across the city.”

Data hub

To build the “data layer” that will power a network of CAVs, the UK government has set up a project called E-CAVE.

“The E-CAVE project is around enabling the environment for connected and autonomous vehicles,” says Simon Navin, Head of Innovation Programmes at Ordnance Survey.

“We see a future where the environment is much more connected, so we’re building connections to infrastructure between vehicles, people and physical objects." – Simon Navin, Head of Innovation Programmes at Ordnance Survey.

"If we do that by sharing data through a data hub then we can optimise transport networks,” he says.

On-demand

It’s not just new technology that will shape how we move around in the future – new services that make better use of existing technology are just as important.

Uber is one such example, and is already the template for emerging on-demand and ride-sharing services.

In 2018 an on-demand bus was launched in Oxford. The service, PickMeUp, allows users to hail a minibus using an app and costs just £2.50 per journey.

PickMeUp, which can seat 17 and offers Wi-Fi, USB charging points and wheelchair access, already has over 12,000 registered users.

“People have really taken to the service and it's continuing to grow,” says Phil Southall, Managing Director of the Oxford Bus Company.

“Students have embraced the service and we've noticed they're signing up to the app and using it.” – Phil Southall, Managing Director of the Oxford Bus Company.

Optimisation

Users of CityMapper will be familiar with services that plan journeys across multiple modes of transport.

In London, the contactless Oyster Card has also begun to streamline paying for these multi-modal journeys. But an Oyster Card won’t be much use if you need to take a cab or rent a bike for part of your journey.

“The critical problem here is to make better use of the infrastructure and the assets we've got,” says Paul Campion, CEO of Transport Research Laboratory.

“We'll do that by providing services based on data. That enables companies to share and exploit data to provide better ways to string together different bits of journeys into multi-modal journeys.” – Paul Campion, CEO of Transport Research Laboratory.

CityMapper is trying to tackle this with the planned launch if CityMapper Pass later this year. Their plan is to apply a subscription model to transport with a single contactless card that covers public transport as well as cabs and bikes.

“Cities are complicated. Our mission has been to simplify them,” CityMapper wrote in a blogpost announcing the plan.

“But we’ve always been missing something: ticketing and payment integration so that we can help users with the complete experience.”

Electric vehicles

Electric cars are increasingly seen as the answer to cleaner air and tackling climate change.

The number of electric vehicles on the road will reach 125 million globally by 2030, according to an International Energy Agency report, with China the driving force behind the switch.

The emergence of “micro-mobility” is beginning to change how we complete our journeys, and will likely become a critical part of the connected vehicle eco-system.

Electric scooters are already worth $17 billion to the global economy, according to a report, and “hoverboards” and electric skateboards are becoming more common.

The cloud

5G is seen as a central component to the mass roll-out of autonomous vehicles.

Fast connection speeds will be critical to the cloud-based data infrastructure that they will use to share location data.

5G connectivity will run at higher frequencies than our current bands, meaning it will have shorter range. Ordnance Survey is working with partners to model the 5G coverage in an urban environment in a project called OmniCAV.

Public trust

Autonomous vehicles are already here.

Planning and execution of journeys with connected vehicles is certain to become more seamless, with greater optimisation as location data is increasingly put to use.

Public trust in CAVs relies on a very high level of safety. Connected environments enabled by projects like E-CAVE and OmniCAV will provide the reliable real-time location data required to facilitate this level of safety.

Image credits: Transport Systems Catapult, Waymo, Tesla, Uber