Are we there yet? Automated vehicles, smart tracking and the future of travel.

by Vinnett Taylor: IOT Specialist, Telefónica (O2) UK

In October last year, the Policy Exchange asked if I would join a panel of speakers at a Conservative Party conference to debate “Are we nearly there yet? Where’s the UK heading with driverless cars?” Over Christmas, I was asked by friends and family “What does automated vehicles mean?” “When will we have driverless cars? Are we there yet?” Then last week I was asked to do a presentation entitled “Are we there yet, a journey to Autonomous Driving?”

That same question again and again – “Are we there yet?” Well, the technology for automated vehicles is there and regulation is already being developed. Just take a look at Google’s prototype and the number of vehicle manufacturers competing to be the first to market.

Ultimately, the success of autonomous driving will depend on connectivity and infrastructure. Currently, cellular connectivity is the best option in terms of coverage to create the ultimate driving experience – so let me tell you more about how O2 is helping to create the future of travel.

Why O2?

We have been a leader in machine-to-machine (M2M) technology for over a decade. Just take a look at O2’s Smart Tracking solution. Our customers can monitor driver behaviour including harsh braking, cornering, acceleration and speeding. Engine data is also collected and translated into meaningful information, so corrective measures can be taken to make sure the vehicle is safe. We also deliver other solutions to car manufactures like eCall. In case of a crash, an eCall-equipped car automatically calls the nearest emergency centre, even if no passenger is able to speak.

How are we involved?

O2 are also part of the GATEway consortium. GATEway is an £8 million project funded by industry and Innovate UK and led by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL). Based in London, it comprises a team of leading companies and academic institutions. By running various trials, GATEway can understand how connected and automated vehicles will work for users and how it will integrate with other modes of transport.

“The possibility to add greater intelligence to vehicles through location aware services, connectivity and automation has many significant benefits. Vehicles can be made safer and more efficient whilst vehicle occupants can enjoy much greater levels of information and entertainment than is possible today. Perhaps even more transformative is the eventual use of automated vehicles to create what could be described as a physical manifestation of the Internet – with people, goods and services being moved in an optimised and automated manner. It’s a compelling vision and the GATEway project, through the creation of a living lab for the testing of automated vehicles in Greenwich and in partnership with O2, is helping us to understand how that vision will be made a reality.” Dr Nick Reed, TRL Academy Director

Are we there yet?

Automated vehicle – it’s a vehicle that can guide itself. Existing connected vehicles (semi-autonomous), which boast features including autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and self-parking, need to have the driver engaged at all times. Autonomous driving is completely driverless, so the driver effectively becomes a passenger.

So although we have the technology, there’s still a lot of work to do. But, I’m confident that automated vehicles will become an essential part of the Internet of Things (IoT), machine-to-machine (M2M) technology, and Smart City propositions and will take us on a journey that will change the future of travel.