Smart, Green, Connected Vehicles: The Future of Transportation

It was a pleasure to be involved with the University of Glasgow’s ‘Smart, Green, Connected Vehicles: The Future of Transportation’ panel on 4 November! The occasion marked the opening of the Darwin Innovation Lab at the University of Glasgow.

This discussion was hosted in Glasgow and streamed online as part of the university’s COP26 programme. Darwin’s co-founder and delivery director, Daniela Petrovic, was one of the panellists.

The moderator was Nuran Acur, professor of innovation at the University of Glasgow and Darwin’s business model innovation lead. Nuran ably hosted the discussion, ensuring everyone had a chance to speak, and talked about the need to bring different stakeholders together in order to achieve innovation.

Also present on the panel were:

  • David Owens, head of industry trials at Virgin Media O2, and Darwin’s chief drone pilot.
  • Robert Gardner, head of innovation at Network Rail.
  • Rafael Hidalgo, telecommunications engineer at Hispasat.
  • Paul Coffey, CEO of Scotland 5G Centre.
  • Muhammad Imran, professor of communication systems at the University of Glasgow.

You can watch the panel online; the University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School has uploaded it to YouTube over here. If you don’t have time to watch the entire thing, though, we’ve given an overview of some of the talking points below.

Daniela Petrovic: Darwin, CAVs and the environment

Daniela spoke about some of the technologies Darwin has been working on and how they could help to enable greener transportation. For example, Darwin and ESA’s Air Quality Unit is distinct from existing air quality monitoring stations, which are static. It’s important to have these static stations, which can give information about air quality in a particular area, but the Air Quality Unit can be attached to a vehicle, and can therefore gather information about emissions from that particular vehicle as it moves.

She also discussed how, in the future, CAVs could be used as a way to connect other means of transport. For example, autonomous vehicle services could transport passengers between rail stations on different lines when there’s no existing public transport between those points, reducing the need for traditional petrol-powered vehicles.

David Owens: mobile networks and the environment

David Owens talked about how O2 and other mobile networks have an important role to play in reducing transport emissions. Tackling transport emissions, both by reducing transportation use and by investing in greener transport, is one of the most important things we can do in order to drive ourselves towards net zero.

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world saw temporary but dramatic reductions in carbon emissions due to lockdowns and home working. If employees have the connectivity they need to work effectively from home, they can reduce the number of days they need to go into the office, resulting in a smaller carbon footprint from commuting. We’ve discovered new ways to live and work during this pandemic, and we now have the opportunity to alter our habits in ways that will be beneficial for the environment.

Robert Gardner: trains and the environment

Robert Gardner discussed Network Rail’s environmental sustainability strategy, which was published recently; you can take a look at it over here.

In the same way safety procedures are baked into the current rail system, Network Rail hopes to build in sustainability procedures. Its priorities include creating a low-emissions railway, reducing industrial waste through reuse or recycling, and protecting and enhancing biodiversity on railway-owned land. It also intends to create a more reliable railway, resilient against the effects of climate change. It’s important to take action to reduce emissions, but it’s also important to be prepared for the problems climate change is anticipated to cause, such as more frequent episodes of severe weather.

The goal is to make it as easy as possible to choose green forms of transport, which can be achieved by making sure we have accessible, reliable rail systems, and by making sure that organising and booking a journey is a simple process. Connectivity is a valuable tool for this. It’s also possible for bus and train systems to work together for greater efficiency, as seen in, for example, London’s Oyster card.

Rafael Hidalgo: satellites and the environment

Rafael Hidalgo talked about how Hispasat valued innovation, and how it demonstrated that value by collaborating with innovative projects such as the Darwin Project.

Hispasat is currently developing a solution to provide connectivity to passengers in high-speed trains. Robert Gardner mentioned that high-speed rail is one of the greenest forms of transport available. By ensuring that passengers stay connected, Hispasat can help to make it a more attractive form of transport for travellers.

Rafael also touched on the positive results of Darwin’s ubiquitous communications trial in Cornwall, in which terrestrial and satellite networks were able to complement each other in areas where one form of network was unreliable. For reliable universal coverage, it’s essential for terrestrial networks and satellites to work together.

Paul Coffey: 5G and the environment

Paul Coffey spoke about how Scotland 5G Centre is helping to address 5G adoption challenges by ensuring the infrastructure for widespread 5G use is in place. Scotland 5G Centre and similar organisations can broaden access to 5G and help people understand what it can do, laying the groundwork for innovation, which can help us to establish greener ways of doing things.

It’s important to ensure people have access to a strong infrastructure regardless of where they live. If there are areas where people don’t have access to public transport or a reliable connection for remote work, for example, they’ll be forced to use the car.

Muhammad Imran: universities, collaboration and the environment

Muhammad Imran spoke about the importance of universities as a place for innovation. Universities allow people from many disciplines to come together and discuss problems, pooling their varied knowledge and experience. Innovation thrives when people are able to share different viewpoints; we touched on this in our article about the value of diversity in the workplace.

Muhammad also touched on how connectivity achieves a similar thing, allowing us to distribute information and hold discussions that can encourage people to change their long-term behaviours in greener ways.

A recurring theme throughout the panel was the importance of discussion and collaboration in pursuit of new ideas. Projects like Darwin enable government, industry and academia to work together, creating fertile ground for innovation. Similarly, events like COP26 let experts from many different fields tackle the problems that we as a planet are facing.

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