Darwin at the University of Glasgow transport strategy workshops

We’ve already posted about the University of Glasgow’s Future of Transport workshop on 9 September 2022. This was followed by two more transport workshops on 23 September and 4 October respectively: ‘Designing Business Models for the Future of Transportation’, and ‘Co-Creating a Strategy for the Future of Transportation’.

These workshops took place at the Darwin Business Innovation Lab at the University of Glasgow, although people were also welcome to attend remotely. The Business Innovation Lab offers expertise and support to organisations interested in refining their business models and strategies, and through these workshops the lab was able to encourage collaborative discussions between various stakeholders in the field of transportation.

The discussion of connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) was particularly interesting, and helped to highlight both how far CAVs have come and how far they still have to go. In this post, we take a look at some of the major points that came up with regard to the adoption of self-driving vehicles.

Public perception of autonomous vehicles

One point that came up was that current self-driving technology is more advanced than many people realise, and a lack of knowledge about autonomous vehicles can lead to a reluctance to use them. We’re already at the point of operating self-driving public transport services like the Darwin Autonomous Shuttle, which has autonomously travelled a distance of nearly 5,000 miles around Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, but people will sometimes hesitate to board an autonomous shuttle because it’s technology they’re not used to.

The presence of the shuttle operator is particularly important at this stage in the development of autonomous vehicles, when the technology exists but most people haven’t yet experienced it. As a human aboard the shuttle who understands how it works, the operator can answer passengers’ questions and help to set them at ease.

At the moment, having a trained operator aboard the shuttle is a legal requirement in the UK. In the future, when the operator is no longer required, it may be worth considering ways of ensuring passengers can still ask any questions they might have. For example, there could be a number for an information service displayed aboard the vehicle, or a button that connects the passenger directly to the service.

At Darwin, we also aim to raise public awareness and understanding of autonomous vehicles through our news posts and our children’s book Darwin the Shuttle Runs Away.

The road to full autonomy

There are a few other challenges to the adoption of autonomous vehicles. For example, the legislation that would allow self-driving vehicles to coexist fully with human-driven vehicles isn’t yet in place in the UK. We’re helping to create this legislation through our collaboration with government agencies and with Aviva, which is using information from the Darwin Autonomous Shuttle to inform its approach to autonomous vehicle insurance.

There are also further advances envisioned for the technology itself. Although self-driving technology has made huge strides, we don’t yet have autonomous vehicles that work at the same level as human drivers in every situation, meaning there are routes on which using a self-driving vehicle isn’t yet feasible.

For example, Ranald Robertson of HITRANS brought up the example of a narrow, single-lane country road, where vehicles can only pass each other at specific passing points. Navigating these roads requires a number of complicated judgements. If a vehicle is coming the other way, you need to judge where the nearest passing point is and which of you is going to pull into it, which could require reversing. If faster vehicles are behind you, it’s polite to pull into a passing place and let them go past.

At the moment, these are decisions that require a certain degree of human perception and empathy. For example, you need to be able to pick up on whether the driver blocking your path is planning to reverse into a passing place or is stubbornly waiting for you to get out of the way. Autonomous driving technology will need to improve before self-driving cars can reliably make these judgements.

The high costs involved in developing autonomous vehicles is currently a challenge in the evolution of the technology. However, we’ve already seen impressive advancement, and we’re closer to achieving the dream of full vehicle autonomy than we’ve ever been before.

If you’d like to know more about different autonomy levels, take a look at our article ‘What are the levels of driving automation?

Darwin Innovation Group is a UK-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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