National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is the UK’s National Metrology Institute and a world-leading centre of excellence in developing and applying the most accurate measurement standards, science and technology available.

In line with the launch of the UK Connected and Automated Mobility Roadmap to 2030: CAM Creators Update, we spoke with Andre Burgess, Manager of the Strategic Partnerships in the Digital Sector at NPL. Andre’s focus is on delivering confidence in the intelligent and effective use of data, and leads the creation of NPL’s Assured Autonomy Programme. This brings together disciplines across Data Science, Time and Frequency, Electro-Magnetic Technologies, 5G and Future Communications and Dimensional Metrology.

What are the main connected and automated mobility (CAM) focuses for the NPL in the short and long term? 

NPL’s work on connected and automated mobility has focused on building collaborations across the UK’s CAM sector. These collaborations help to establish an integrated digital measurement infrastructure and technical framework, to support the development, testing, certification and operational assurance of connected and automated mobility. Currently this is focused on the following areas through research projects funded by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV):

  • Sensor performance: identifying the requirements, infrastructure and facilities needed to enable reliable sensor testing and validation, which can also support a safety evaluation and assurance programme. 
  • Virtual testing: Testing in virtual simulation environments is a vital component – and the only practical approach – of testing the range of complex scenarios that inform the safety of an automated vehicle (AV). 

NPL’s work sets out to answer two main questions:

  1. How can we be confident that performance in the virtual environment reflects performance in reality?
  2. How can this process be made cost-effective?

This research will support the development of technical frameworks, linking virtual and physical test environments, to enable reliable development, testing and certification. 

Our research projects and measurement activities stretch across a number of CAM development topics, including the creation of a National Timing centre. 

Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) and in particular the US Global Positioning System (GPS), is pervasive across our increasingly digital infrastructure, enabling positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) applications. 

The ease of implementation of GPS receivers, particularly for timing and synchronisation, has led to unknown dependencies across critical national infrastructure. GNSS are vulnerable to interferences, such as jamming, spoofing and solar storms, potentially costing the UK £5.2b over a five-day outage. The recent Blackett Report on satellite dependencies for position and timing, commissioned by Sir Mark Walport, highlights these vulnerabilities and the lack of awareness of the dependency across sectors.

NPL contributes to the formulation of the global time scale, UTC (Coordinated Universal Time), and manages the UK’s real time implementation, UTC(NPL). Direct access to this UTC reference offers the UK a source of time, independent to GNSS and not susceptible to the same vulnerabilities. NPL is leading the development of a resilient national timing infrastructure, providing GNSS independence, and access to sovereign capability (UTC(NPL)). This National Timing Centre will offer a resilient core UTC(NPL), distributed across secure hosting facilities in the UK. 

In addition, the NTC will begin addressing the UK skills gap in timing and will be provisioning access nodes to engage industry and academia, disseminating reference time and frequency signals, toward supporting the development of a UK supply chain for timing products and services. This capability, covering infrastructure and processes, products and services, could be exported globally, generating revenues for the UK, and maintaining our heritage and leadership in time and time dissemination.

Why did you decide to be involved with the Roadmap?

We see the Roadmap as a useful tool to enable NPL to help identify the best routes to support the UK CAM sector; helping to identify partners/dependencies in developing new measurement infrastructure to support AV development, testing and safety assurance, thereby delivering impact to industry and supporting UK global leadership in this area.

NPL’s work links naturally with those aspects of the Roadmap related to vehicle connectivity and sensors, as well as infrastructure for test and development, and communications. 

In your opinion, what role does collaboration play in the ongoing development of CAM?

Collaboration ensures that there is no significant divergence in approach, and will help the UK to become a global leader in development and testing.

An underlying principle in the development of any test infrastructure is to ensure its usability and acceptability, early in its development. This is best achieved through engagement and collaboration across current UK stakeholders and trials, under the guidance of organisations such as CCAV and Zenzic. 

Can you tell us a bit more on your work with the Met Office and sensor testing?

One key challenge arising from automated mobility systems is the reliance on a range of sensors for safety-critical applications in self-driving vehicles. How these sensors perform and where they might fail must be clearly understood.

Having the right tools to determine when sensors will fail is therefore vital for connected and automated mobility to operate safely. The weather is a dominant aspect of the changing conditions that may affect sensors, for example. This is an especially complex challenge, and the need for a solution has been observed across regulators and developers around the world. This indicates there is an opportunity for the UK to build and demonstrate leadership in this area.   

Together the Met Office and NPL have undertaken a research project on behalf of CCAV to specify what those tools should be: a usable and reliable framework for understanding how well sensors perform in different weather-related conditions, including when the sensors cannot be relied upon.  

NPL and the Met Office, as neutral agencies and leaders in their respective fields of Metrology and Meteorology, have a vital coordinating role in developing this work.

An underlying principle of this research is to ensure the framework’s usability and acceptability, early in its development. This is being achieved through engagement and collaboration across current UK stakeholders and trials, under the direction of CCAV.  

When fully developed, this framework will support validation, safety assurance and simulation testing of CAM, across the UK. 


Thank you to Andre from NPL for taking the time to talk to us. Explore the latest Roadmap release, which includes contributions from NPL and 116 other organisations in UK connected and automated mobility.