Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) present an interesting conundrum in the West of England. Depending on the view point, CAV can be seen as an industry, cluster, technology or application. In essence, it is an amalgamation of all the above. The prevailing technology that has enabled CAV research and development (R&D) projects such as VENTURER to emerge has been around for a number of years, exploited in part by VENTURER partners. Bristol Robotics Lab (BRL) for example, has been developing robotics and autonomous systems since the early noughties. BAE Systems on the other hand, has been developing the Wildcat (a defence based vehicle with autonomous capability) over a similar timeline. So what’s new with CAV now and specifically, what value can VENTURER add? Well, the adoption of CAV technology on a widespread level has yet to be embraced, partly due to the fact that there are only a limited number of new vehicles with Level 4 autonomous capability (there are however, lots of new vehicles available in the UK market with driver assistance technology such as smart city braking or lane departure assist).
The opportunity for the West of England therefore, is to be the first mover and UK leader in developing innovative Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) and Artificial Intelligence/Human Machine Learning technology that can be fed into every part of the development and supply chain. No longer are we confined to technology readiness levels (TRL) 1-7 but Innovate UK funded R&D projects such as VENTURER provide platforms for technology to be developed which can be market exploitable and ultimately, commercially viable (TRL 8-10 for example). The Economic Impact Study VENTURER commissioned outlined that with a little more coordinated thinking and concerted effort, we have every chance to create the Gross Value Added (GVA) and jobs target as outlined at VENTURER’s inception phase. Using our initial analysis of what defines CAV, it’s clear to see a cluster definitely exists. There are a number of entities in the region all subsumed with CAV R&D as well as developing market ready technology (i.e. Fusion Processing, another VENTURER partner). CAV as a technology is reflected in the region through the expertise being developed at BRL and University of Bristol. Application wise, the local councils are keen to capitalise on the actual use of this technology on the local highway network (enabling people to get to work quicker and stress free for example, thus positively influencing productivity).
In summary, there are a number of direct and indirect economic impacts that CAV development and eventual deployment in the West of England region will achieve but the intrinsic benefits of this ever emerging technology/cluster/application/industry are yet to be clearly defined and indeed, embraced. One thing is for certain, the principle of innovation and technology in creating new commercial opportunities is something any stakeholder will relish. The West of England therefore, with its existing capabilities and competencies in high tech, digital and advanced engineering can creatively nurture this to happen by influencing new jobs, efficiency savings and catalysing new products and services.
By Abdul Choudhury – Economic Development Officer, South Gloucestershire Council