Connected transport’s infrastructure identified as being a significant limiting factor as mobility and technology sectors come together to debate collaboration at latest APC seminar

  • Can the infrastructure keep up with connected transport’s needs? Most speakers and delegates think not
  • It’s not just about motive technology – the way we organise travel can have a significant effect on sustainability
  • Hydrogen and battery power should be seen as complementary technologies, rather than competitors
  • Poll finds 87% of delegates wouldn’t give up personal data to create the perfect multi-modal transport system for fears of breaches in cyber-security

The challenges placed upon infrastructure by connected transport systems, including autonomous and connected vehicles, were graphically illustrated at the last in the current Future of Technology series of seminars hosted by the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) and Innovate UK.

In a live poll of delegates, less than a third of the audience thought infrastructure would be able to support mobility technologies of the future, revealing a deep misalignment between nascent transport technologies and the ability for infrastructure to keep up – and that centralised government is pivotal in ensuring the many transport and infrastructure sectors are coordinated.

In a second poll, undertaken after expert analysis of the threats posed by cybercrime to connected transport systems, delegates were asked whether they would be prepared to give up personal data to create the perfect multi-modal transport system, and only 13% declared that they would.

The language of tomorrow

For the last of the current series of seminars, held at the Royal Institution in London, the organisers chose to broaden its scope and examine how collaboration across sectors can help to meet the mobility emissions and fuel challenges of the future. The APC’s Philippa Oldham set the scene by saying transport couldn’t operate in silos. “Surely all sectors need to collaborate and share data in order to be able to see the big picture, and join up the dots?”

The first guest speaker was acclaimed futurist Ray Hammond, who foresaw a need for a new language of transport to emerge. He quoted the wireless and the horseless carriage as examples of literal names for radio and automobile. “If there is no language, there can be no ideas, no thoughts, no concepts, and vitally, no collaboration”. Hammond saw self-driving vehicles in use within ten years, but that their use would be limited, say to airports, university campuses and possibly shopping centres.

Marcus Jones from TRL said that transport sectors must cooperate rather than compete. A recent success story is the increased use of bicycles to get to railway stations. “Increasing bike parking has seen a 70% increase in the use of bikes to get to stations”. However, he reckoned we need to remove the stress associated with connections, by making better use of information technology to put users in more control. “Users don’t like uncertainty, nor do they like changing modes”, Jones warned.

 Data security: a real challenge

Charlie McMurdie, cyber-crime and security expert at PwC, warned about increasingly sophisticated and subtle cyber-crime activities that are highly blended and disguised, with the UK as a top target. The use of ransomware points to a trend towards extortion, she suggested. “This could easily extend to the hacking of autonomous vehicle systems leading to ambush, carjacking or kidnapping, or even deliberate crashing”. She warned that “we must get cyber security right or autonomous vehicles will fail”.

Lucy Shenton, of BAE Systems, agreed. “We are seeing crimes such as printers being remotely hacked and overworked so that they catch fire” she said. “Imagine what could be done with an autonomous vehicle”. Lucy warned that standard encryption protocols are too slow for AVs, although there are some novel solutions in development including quantum encryption and artificial intelligence. Crucially, she posed the question of how we future-proof our infrastructure to prevent future crimes, in 20 or 30 years time, which will use methodologies we have not even imagined. “Somehow we need to foresee the crimes of the future. It’s a global activity, across all sectors – we must share and link-up”.

Trains, planes and… hyperloops

The need to solve the energy gap was highlighted by Alstom’s Mike Muldoon. “While rail only accounts for 0.8% of transport’s 22% of global emissions, the UK still has a significant diesel fleet and less than 50% of the network is electrified”. He said in tests Paddington station exceeded European atmosphere limits for nitrogen dioxide. “How can we fulfil the Government’s wish to remove diesels from our tracks by 2040?” he posed. “Battery trains have an insufficient range and are too heavy. However, Alstom’s Coradia iLint hybrid uses hydrogen fuel cells in combination with batteries which are charged both by regenerative energy and by the fuel cells towards the end of each shift”. With a 90mph top speed and a 600 mile range, Alstom’s technology is about to go into passenger service.

Simon Henley from the Royal Aeronautical Society reckoned that long-haul planes would predominantly consume hydrocarbon fuels for the foreseeable future. “But we can improve the way we operate. For example, take-offs and landings use a lot of fuel, so direct flights help,” he said. Aircraft designs, driven by fuel costs, are improving. “Each new generation shows a 15% improvement in fuel efficiency,” he revealed. “The industry is starting to collaborate on systems, such as connected planes allowing closer flights, and micro-planned routes allowing immediate landings, while innovations such as electric powered taxiing and geared turbofans are also showing fuel savings”.

Grzegorz Marecki from Edinburgh Hyped offered the audience an insight into the future aboard a hyperloop, which offers efficient high speed, low drag, low friction mobility. Running in a partial vacuum, this tube-based transport hovers on a magnetic field and uses electric motive power. Various projects by Elon Musk and others, including Edinburgh Hyped, are now showing promise, he claimed. With speeds of up to 700mph being achievable, Grzegorz said “at such an event in the future, I could be home in Edinburgh inside an hour”.

EVs – Evolution in both infrastructure and usage

Tom Pakenham from OVO said that new control architectures could enable 100% renewable energy, through use of batteries to provide grid balancing. “The advent of EVs in serious numbers means we face a choice – either increase generating capacity or make the grid more intelligent. OVO thinks it should be more intelligent”. Enabling local storage and forecasting demand in 30 minute segments means electric vehicle to grid (V2G) charging can fill gaps locally in national generating capacity.

James Kirimy from Uber pointed out that there are currently about 1.2 billion cars on the roads globally, which are parked on average 95% of the time and take up city space that could be used for greater purposes such as public parks. He said that air pollution causes 3.7 million premature deaths per year globally, and that transportation is the source of more than 75% of local air pollution in the most developed cities. He explained that ride-sharing services such as Uber help address these issues by reducing the need for individual car ownership. “Our clean air ambition is to be fully electric on UberX in London by 2025” he said. “However, we see infrastructure as a major challenge to be solved in order to achieve EVs’ potential”.

Facing the challenge in the UK

Venn Chesterton from Innovate UK said that to keep the UK competitive in new transport technologies, all sectors must benefit from each other’s R&D. In his opinion, much of the new value which will come into a vehicle in the coming years will be in electronics and software, where UK expertise could lead the field. In closing, Venn challenged us: “What does the UK want to be a world leader in?”

Philippa Oldham agreed, and raised the issue of skills shortage. “The UK needs 182,000 engineers per year to 2022 if we are to fill the gap.” She was worried that Brexit could present a problem in attracting non-UK engineers. But it’s not just a recruitment problem, with Philippa telling delegates that “by age 35, we have lost 67% of our female engineers from the profession.” One potential avenue is to broaden the profession’s appeal to women, who currently make up only 9% of the total.

Summing up, the APC’s CEO Ian Constance said that even in the five year life so far of the APC, the world has changed significantly. “Today’s seminar has showed me that collaboration is essential to overcoming the low carbon, mobility, energy and infrastructure challenges ahead”. He concluded that “these challenges have to be brought together, to converge, in order for us to develop the propulsion technologies that will lead us to a cleaner world”.