I had the pleasure of taking part in a live panel at Highways UK recently on infrastructure and connected vehicles, joined by colleagues from Highways England, Navtech Radar, Zenzic and Amey.
It was notable that there was broad agreement that there were great potential benefits to connected vehicles but that unlocking those was dependent on the infrastructure being in place to facilitate that. Most importantly, the panel agreed that connectivity itself (whether that be the sensor or communications hardware or the data architecture and data flowing over it) is an infrastructure issue. This builds on views expressed by some including the National Infrastructure Commission that in the 21st Century, data is infrastructure and could be deployed for the public good.
Put simply, within a safe and cyber-secure framework, the greater the connectivity between vehicles with other vehicles and its environment, the greater the potential benefits of the technology. In particular, better end-to-end journeys, less congestion, improved air quality, managed parking and pavement use, safer environments for all road users and better road asset management.
The current infrastructure framework makes limited use of vehicle connectivity. Connected vehicles (such as they are now) are providing limited benefits to OEMs or app developers and to drivers in terms of individual journey planning, information (e.g. on route retail and refuelling) and safety (e.g. eCall).
However, limited connectivity and data sharing means that system-wide objectives of improving journey times overall and reducing congestion, not to mention social objectives such as better air quality and places for those working and living by roads are still out of reach. Outside of individual users of technology, connected vehicle technology is yet to deliver the kind of benefits that infrastructure owners and managers, other roadspace users and communities might hope for.
It was striking to hear Andy Fisher from Highways England comment that they had very little data as to connected vehicle use on their infrastructure, let alone being able to benefit from it to improve real-time information or asset and traffic management. At the same time, it was equally clear that the developers of connected vehicle technology would start to increase the utility and efficiency of their technology many times over if they can benefit from increased connectivity to other valuable data sources such as those in the hands of roads authorities.
Connectivity is often considered a technical or regulatory issue. However, an often overlooked part is that connectivity is also about people, communities and organisations. The more transparent, promoted and shared the benefits are of connected vehicles, the more stakeholders would choose to participate in the system for mutual benefit. And the more connectivity there is, the greater those benefits become bringing us closer to some of those system and society level benefits.
To achieve this, stakeholders from across the connected vehicle ecosystem must engage with each other - openly and co-operatively. A connected vehicle model with limited connectivity and data benefits does not utilise the technology's full potential.
A connected vehicle model with limited connectivity and data benefits does not utilise the technology's full potential.