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28 April 2012

Intelligent Mobility Summit

Tag(s): Business

This week I participated in the National Summit for Intelligent Mobility at the Royal Society in London. The event was organised by the Automotive Council, which brings together industry and government with the objective of attracting investment and safeguarding jobs. Under the auspices of its Technology Committee it has adopted five sticky technologies, so-called because they are those which involve R&D in the UK. If there is sufficient R& D activity it is thought the rest, manufacturing, supply chain etc will follow. One of these is Intelligent Mobility which we define as “Delivering increased traffic flows, improved safety, and measurable user benefits whilst reducing energy consumption, emissions and congestion.” I have been a member of the Working Group which over the past two years wrote a report “Intelligent Mobility: A National Need?”[i]and is now developing a technology roadmap and assessing the status of UK capability in this field.

The Summit was addressed by both the Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt. Hon. Justine Greening MP and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Rt. Hon. Vince Cable MP who acts as Co-Chair of the Automotive Council. Both outlined the significant opportunities for the UK to take a lead in this global opportunity. Dr Cable said the potential for UK business in this area equates to 20,000 jobs and revenue of £5 billion by 2020. This makes Intelligent Mobility both a national need and a global opportunity. It is easy to make the case for reducing congestion, accidents and pollution. It is harder to make the business case as to how you make money out of it. In my view, and increasingly in the view of organisations like the Automotive Council, it will require collaboration among different stakeholders. There may be specific opportunities for individual vehicle manufacturers to carve out a position offering a particular service or technology to make the car safer or less polluting. But the issue of congestion will only be addressed by collaboration among various organisations and indeed industries.

The idea of the Summit therefore, which I helped develop, was to bring together leaders from across those different sectors and I am glad to report that we succeeded in that. 150 people from across the spectrum of Intelligent Mobility attended with representatives from academia, air and sea ports, automotive manufacturing and engineering, bus and fleet operators, energy producers, government and its various agencies, insurance, IT, local councils and transport authorities, navigation experts, rail manufacturers and operators, research councils, retailers, technology and infrastructure consultants, telecommunications, and the press. I believe such a gathering to be unprecedented in this field.

The attendees were treated to a full day of high level presentations with senior executives and academics from all over the world. I was privileged to join some of them the evening before in a private dinner at Watermen’s Hall by the river Thames. They covered such areas as Future Models for Mobility, Intelligent Safety and Urban Traffic Flow, Universal Connectivity, Traffic Information, Monitoring Behaviour, Autonomous Vehicles and Intelligent Lorries.

Richard Parry-Jones, the other co-chair of the Automotive Council, with a distinguished career in automotive engineering at Ford behind him and the new designate chair of Network Rail, opened the conference. He called for unusual forms of collaboration involving data and memory, sensors particularly imaging sensors, communications both in vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I), autonomous control and open access platforms. We are seeking to improve traffic flows and therefore journey time predictability which will also reduce carbon emissions. The UK is a good place to do this as we have a strong home market, government support, an excellent academic base, skills in innovation and good testing facilities.

Justine Greening wants to transform the experience of travel making it seamless and integrated. Demand is set to rise by an estimated 35% over the next 20 years so we need smarter networks. The role of government is to free us up to do what we are best at. While the potential benefits of Intelligent Mobility cannot be exaggerated we should not underestimate the challenges which she described as:

1.       What are the long term outcomes, not only in increased capacity but also in an enhanced experience?

2.       What are the solutions and technologies that will deliver these?

3.       How do we build momentum from this starting point?

Pim van der Jagt heads up Advanced Research and Engineering for Ford of Europe and quoted his Chairman Bill Ford who in a recent speech to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona delivered a dire warning of global gridlock. With the number of vehicles on the world’s roads set to quadruple to about 4 billion by 2050, carmakers needed to work with other industries and governments or risk seeing cars lose their basic function of getting people from A to B. “Now is the time for all of us to be looking at vehicles on the road the same way we look at smart phones, laptops, and tablets: as pieces of a much bigger, richer network.” Henry Ford’s original mission was “to democratize the automobile” which he achieved through the Model T. In a sense this created congestion as ordinary people could afford a car. Today Ford was developing solutions to other problems of safety, connectivity and pollution that would from the beginning be incorporated in popular models, not just the premium vehicles. In the long term we should aspire to a connected network of all modes of mobility. To get there we would need to address the challenges of respecting privacy, adapting legislation, consumer acceptance of V2V communication, security and data quality.

Tony Douglas is Head of Marketing and Sales for BMW i-mobility servicers. BMW’s No 1 Group Strategy is to become the leading provider of premium products and services (my italics) for individual mobility. This requires a different mind-set with focus not only on horsepower but also on mobility services, even to non-car owners. In some cities in Germany BMW has already launched an all-inclusive parking and refuelling service.

Dr Nady Boules is the director of Global R&D for General Motors. He gave a visionary presentation stating that one answer to the urban mobility challenge is electrified, connected and autonomous vehicles. With increasing population, urbanisation and aspiration the vehicle parc is set to rise to 4 billion. The present parc of 1 billion would encircle the earth 125 times. We need to develop high efficiency vehicles with no tailpipe emissions; that don’t crash but travel freely; and are affordable for every purse and purpose. To do this the automotive DNA would change from petrol driven to electricity and hydrogen; from internal combustion engines to electric power; from mechanical to electronic; from stand alone to connected; and from driver-dependent to autonomous.

Nady gave the example of the 360° vision that imaging sensors could give which has to be superior to human vision with its narrow front field and reliance on mirrors. He described a progressive road map of how such vehicles are developed. GM had already demonstrated an autonomous vehicle that had won a race for such vehicles back in 2007 obeying all the rules of the road. I had dinner with Nady the night before. He is Egyptian by birth and has enjoyed a remarkable 30-year career with GM.

Larry Haddad is the Global CMO for Nissan’s Vehicle Information Technology Division. He flew in from Japan to tell us about some of the collaborative advanced driver assistance systems using V2I testing that is going on in Japan, where some of the most advanced work in this field has been done. The Government has set specific goals of reducing road fatalities to fewer than 2,500 p.a. by 2018 and reducing the economic cost of congestion. 11% of fuel consumption is by cars just idling in jams. One project involving V2V and V2I collision avoidance systems has had significant results reducing the number of cars approaching hazards too fast by a third or more. Larry gave the summit his own recommendations based on the Japanese experience:

·         Look at the big picture

·         Work with Brussels

·         Involve public-private collaborations

·         Allocate radio frequencies

·         Set an appropriate budget

Paul Campion manages travel and transport for IBM. He told us that everything is instrumented already. The transistor was invented in 1947, 65 years ago. By 2010 there were one billion transistors per person![ii]The GM Volt electric car contains 100 microprocessors and as much code as a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. 30% of urban traffic is looking for a parking space. Data are the key to solving this, but real time is too late. Prediction can reduce congestion. Most of these data and the technology to exploit them exist already. The barriers to action are the silos in which the data are held. We need to set the data free thoughtfully and work towards a world of smarter transportation. Paul gave the example of the Stockholm congestion charge which reduced congestion by 25% and in an IBM survey Stockholm is now rated by consumers as No 1 for its transport.

Andrew Gilbert is the Executive VP for Integrated Systems Architecture at Qualcomm and spoke of two worlds colliding, those of mobile and mobility. With already more people connected to a mobile device than to a fixed wire telephone demand was now being led by the devices and their applications. The production cycles are different with mobile phones on an 18 month cycle while the development cycle for cars is some 6-7 years. Andrew could see the day when Electric Vehicles would be charged dynamically while driving thus eliminating range anxiety.

Shashi Verma is Director of Customer Experience for Transport for London (TfL) and is in charge of the oyster card, the largest card system of its kind in the world. 96% of bus journeys in London and 81% of journeys on the tube are paid for by oyster card, the remainder are mainly tickets issued by the Train Operating Companies. When the oyster card was introduced in 2004 the business case was to reduce congestion in the ticket halls, fraud and the number of tickets sold. As 300 rail stations have been added to the network of booths issuing Oyster cards the number of rail journeys has demonstrably increased by 5.5%. The concept of a ticket was originally introduced on omnibuses and trains to avoid fraud. Prior to that as much as 60% of the revenue was stolen. The ticket was simply an accounting solution. Shashi wants to get rid of it altogether as other cashless payment solutions come into wider use, whether mobile phone apps or contact-less charge cards, he thinks this will be possible with further reductions in congestion and probable increases in journeys resulting.

Shashi also spoke of the successful publication of TfL data. After an internal debate over whether they should hold the data for their own use they saw the big picture. TfL‘s role is the free movement of millions of people every day. By freeing up this data they are helping to achieve that. There are now 3,000 licensed developers, hundreds of applications and millions of users.

After this wide-ranging look at global capabilities Dr Cable introduced the afternoon session on how the Intelligent Mobility challenge builds on UK strengths. After reviewing these he gave two signals of the government’s commitment. First was the recent announcement of a Transport Systems Catapult. The Catapults are Technology and Innovation Centres based on the German Fraunhofer model which connects universities and industry. (Dr Cable actually called them Frankfurters to general mirth!) I have been lobbying hard for this and am delighted that such a Catapult will come into being as it is very consistent with the mission of innovITS, the UK centre of excellence in transport telematics and technology for sustainable mobility, which I chair.

Second was the £10 million government investment in innovITS Advance, the world’s first purpose-built facility for the development, testing and validation of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) technology, products and services, which innovITS operates.

We then received a series of presentations on the UK’s state of readiness in the commercial and academic sectors. We heard about Stobart Group’s commitment to continuous improvements in load utilisation and efficiency. Its business model is based on pooling customers and it achieves 87% utilisation but is always looking for more. Every 1% is worth £2.7 million on the bottom line. McLaren Motorsport uses data to predict race results and this technique may have wider applications. Cosworth is constantly striving to improve engine management when an average internal combustion engine is only 35% thermally efficient. David Martell who founded TrafficMaster contrasted the primitive sensors he mounted on poles over twenty years ago with the situation today where the car, itself equipped with GPS and communication technologies, can be the probe. According to Thatcham, the safety testing organisation, more and more insurance companies are providing black box policies to reward good driver behaviour. Professor Paul Newman (see my blog Robotics 21 January 2012) explained his vision of autonomous vehicles with lifelong infrastructure-free navigation and believes there is no technical impediment to UK leadership despite Google’s three-year lead in this. After all Google only has 22 engineers working on this and he has 23!

This event took much preparation but is only a start. But at least a start has been made in bringing different industries together to work on solving common problems and in the process create new businesses which can lead the world in what will be one of the greatest challenges facing humanity this century.

Copyright David C Pearson 2012 All rights reserved


[ii]It may be more than this. The first transistor was a quarter the size of an American penny; now a computer processor chip the size of a postage stamp contains 2 billion transistors. Intel makes 10 billion transistors every second. Cf “The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation” Jon Gertner. Penguin Press 2012

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