CAV R&D Testing in the West of England

Almost four years ago, the term Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) and Driverless Cars would return one to two Google Alerts per week (each containing a couple of links). I know this as that is when I set them up for VENTURER’s reference. Now I receive two a day, each containing half a dozen links, which I spend moments browsing, partly because the council is involved in a further three Innovate UK-funded CAV projects other than VENTURER.

The CAV narrative continues to go from strength to strength both within the UK and internationally. Innovate UK and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) have recently announced another tranche of projects they have awarded funding for as part of the CAV4 competition. Pilot CAV services are also now being rolled out in North America, South Asia and the Pan Pacific. This is not to say that the UK and EU are lagging in real-world deployment but that there is clearly more to do in terms of controlled testing. Whilst commercial CAV services outside the UK and EU are already being deployed, overcoming the potentially challenging infrastructure in the UK will enable us to learn a great deal about safe CAV testing and deployment.

The safe testing and deployment of CAVs is supported by the UK Government’s ‘Code of Practice for Testing CAVs’. A new version of this guidance is due to be released imminently and is expected to complement the existing Code of Practice. This is good news for the existing CAV projects that are planning to run trials that were penned some two-three years ago, such as those based in the West of England. Moreover, the West of England will continue to maintain its competitive advantage for CAV Research & Development through the University of Bath’s Institute of Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPS) global centre of excellence. This will build on 40 years of powertrain research conducted on campus at the University of Bath and help attract new investment to the area. We can surmise most CAVs will be electric and/or hybrid and vice versa, appreciating it might take a generation for blanket adoption. The IAAPS will enable SMEs involved in the development of electric vehicles (EVs) and/or CAVs to conduct true-to-life testing in a lab environment and facilitate creative collisions between SMEs and OEMs.

The VENTURER Alliance also provides a unique capability to address and react to market demand for developing CAVs and associated technology. As well as collaborations between existing partners, new opportunities are emerging that can be supported through testing of CAVs in both simulator and real-world environments – both of which can be provided by the VENTURER Alliance. The latter is truly a reflection of South Gloucestershire Council’s Open to Innovation approach, whereby a controlled road CAV test-bed on the University of the West of England’s campus is enhanced by the ability to seamlessly integrate with a dual carriageway and 5G network connecting to the Bristol and Bath Science Park (where IAAPS is locating). This is just one example of the digital research and development (R&D) network emerging in South Gloucestershire.

Finally, I am pleased to share with you that one of our partners, Fusion Processing, will be leading on a CAV4 project called CAV Forth, supported by Bristol Robotics Laboratory. Though CAV Forth will be taking place hundreds of miles away (it’s all in the name), there is definitely something in the water in the West of England for the future of CAV R&D and testing, both in lab and real-world environments. Watch this space!

Authored by Abdul Choudhury, Principal Economic Development Officer at South Gloucestershire Council