Last week there were a few articles from US media outlets looking at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the development of automated vehicle technologies. Those articles focused on the impact on testing and to revenue in the US, both of which seem to have slowed substantially in the wake of nationwide lockdowns.

So, what’s happening in the UK? 

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the development and testing of automated vehicle technologies in the UK. Some vehicle trials planned for the Spring have been cut-short or cancelled all together. Testing and trials may not recommence whilst the current social-distancing measures are in place, at least until acceptable working measures are identified. This is largely down to the need for at least two people in a vehicle or pod during tests and trials, but also because many of the projects rely on public participants in their focus on demonstrating the technology to potential users of automated mobility solutions.

However as with other sectors, CAM is adapting rapidly to the new environment around it.

As a firm, we’re involved in a number of Innovate UK funded CAV projects and whilst trials may have been paused, there is a significant amount of work happening to keep momentum going. In some cases this is reassessing what the project can deliver during the period of lockdown. But, in the absence of physical testing and trialling of automated vehicle technologies, there are still many positive developments for the UK’s CAM market – some of which might not have arisen if it were not for COVID-19 - and for exploring the potential role of automated vehicle technologies in responding to the current pandemic. For example:

  • The Windracers ULTRA drone has flown across the Solent and made the first delivery of medical equipment to St Mary’s Hospital. The delivery is to help St Mary’s in the response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The trial, involving partners Solent Transport, the University of Southampton and Windracers, is funded by the Department for Transport.
  • The UKRI has launched funding opportunities for short-term projects to address and mitigate the health, social, economic, cultural and environmental impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • West Midlands 5G (WM5G) in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) launched a £2.5 million competition for 5G trials in the West Midlands that develop a new product or service which improve road and rail operational efficiency, improve transport connections or improve traveller experience.

In addition to the above opportunities, the UK is continuing to make great strides in research and continuing work to review and develop the regulatory framework for CAM. Here’s a snapshot of some of the latest developments:

  • Zenzic has recently published a report on Cyber Resilience in Connected and Automated Mobility. See our blog post here.
  • BSI has released PAS 1880 Guidelines for developing and assessing control systems for new automated vehicles and published PAS 1881:2020 ‘Assuring the Safety of Automated Vehicle Trials and Testing – Specification’. It has also published a new CAV vocabulary in ‘beta’ version for wider consultation.
  • The Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission are continuing their work on reviewing the regulatory framework for the safe deployment of automated vehicles in the UK. The joint Law Commissions’ analysis of the responses to Consultation Paper 2 is anticipated during May 2020, with the third Consultation Paper published later in 2020.

Inevitably, the impact of COVID-19 will be felt on CAM development.  There is, nonetheless, much to be positive about when it comes to the UK CAM market. With continued focus on developing the technologies and ensuring that the regulatory frameworks to support the deployment of automated vehicles are in place, there is every sign that the UK will continue to be a world-leader in CAM.