This blog was written by Nick Reed, Founder of Reed Mobility, an expert, independent consultancy focused on the future of mobility.

What projects are Reed Mobility currently delivering?

Despite lockdown, things are busy! Since we were established in June 2019, Reed Mobility has picked up a number of fascinating projects in the connected and automated mobility (CAM) space. Our current work includes a study to develop guidance for the European Commission around the ethical considerations for the deployment of CAVs as one of fourteen selected experts. The outcomes from this work are to be published in June of this year.

BSI is working with CCAV on a programme of standards development that is related to connected and automated vehicles (CAVs) and we have been recruited to support this initiative. This has included technical authorship of a CAV Vocabulary, which sets out definitions for terms to ensure alignment across the sector and is allowing us to work with a wide range of stakeholders from across the UK.

We are supporting Bosch and their involvement in the ConVEx project. This initiative, led by Transport for West Midlands, is creating an open data exchange platform for CAM as a key component of Zenzic’s CAM Testbed UK strategy. As I led the bid for this project whilst working for Bosch, it is very pleasing to be involved in delivering it.

Finally, we are also supporting a couple of start-ups as they seek to develop their products and grow their business. I am hopeful we will see much more from them in the coming months.

In light of COVID-19, what will be the ‘new normal’ for transport?

Right now, we are being reminded there is no static ‘normal’. Instead, we’re learning that society continually evolves and adapts in response to new technologies, societal norms, policies and environmental challenges. Once previous activities begin to resume, the disruption caused by COVID-19 offers the chance to change transportation for the better.

The requirement to work from home wherever possible has led many organisations to exploit online tools for meetings, presentations and education. There will be careful consideration by employers and employees around the extent to which the time and financial costs by travel may be reduced if equivalent outcomes can be achieved using virtual methods of working.

Many will have noticed the benefits of quieter roads and the improvement in air quality that has occurred in a relatively short time. Public authorities may have the confidence to adopt stronger policies in tackling the issue given the widespread declarations of climate emergency. With UK Government recognising that “public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities” and the Prime Minister proclaiming the start of a “golden age of cycling” there is certainly impetus in that direction.

The current lockdown restrictions and demand for deliveries would have made an ideal environment for connected and self-driving vehicles to step up and provide essential services, whether delivering vital medical supplies, facilitating transport for key workers or taking groceries to remote locations or homebound self-isolators. There have been a few examples where this has been demonstrated (e.g. Cruise, Pony AI) but the scarcity of activity in this area reflects how the technology is not ready for primetime action. However, the situation adds further weight to the benefits case for these types of vehicles and highlights the need for further investment to ensure their capabilities can be exploited in future. Reed Mobility is a founding member of an initiative intended to stimulate this activity, the manifesto for which can be read here.

What will be the impact for transport design?

Many reading this article will be familiar with the future of the automotive industry being framed around the CASE / ACES acronyms. These represent automation, connectivity, electrification and sharing, which is significant because they have become the shorthand for the trends that are currently influencing the sector.

COVID-19 has caused us to become incredibly conscious over our proximity to one another and the cleanliness of common touchpoint surfaces such as door handles, push buttons and touchscreens. This may therefore cause some retrenchment in relation to the ‘S’ of ACES since shared vehicles represent a useful vector for viral transmission. Research has demonstrated that the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus can survive on metal, glass and plastic surfaces (of which a vehicle interior has many) for as long as nine days. Our sensitivity to these issues may have ongoing implications for the development and design of our transport systems, particularly for shared vehicles.

When I was leading TRL’s GATEway project (trialling automated vehicles in Greenwich), a collaboration emerged with Ravensbourne University London, we challenged design students to imagine the appearance of future vehicles once automation had become established. The winning concept was one in which the vehicle interior was highly flexible giving an open environment for maximum capacity or a compartmentalised interior to give passengers privacy. I can imagine that future vehicles designed specifically for sharing may incorporate some of this thinking, perhaps also taking inspiration from business class cabin layouts that allow individual passengers to choose greater or lesser privacy over the course of their flight.

Alternatively, the design pendulum may swing towards purpose-built single occupant connected and self-driving vehicles. These do not reach the passenger densities achieved with larger vehicles and so may not be appropriate for dense urban centres. However, in other locations, the individualistic nature of the cabin may be perceived as more appealing than being in close proximity to other passengers. One recent example of such a vehicle comes from Gordon Murray Design and Delta Motorsport, which I was involved in a consortium associated with the concept development, the Motiv. This was launched at the recent MOVE2020 show at the London ExCeL Centre. That this venue, two months on, became the NHS Nightingale emergency hospital in response to COVID-19 is a bittersweet irony.

So, what’s next?

There are some critical decision points coming up about how the transport system reacts to the current crisis. Some seem to believe private vehicle traffic will increase as travellers seek privacy and refuge in their own vehicles. Others believe that this hiatus will enable active travel modes to flourish. Whichever way things develop, data will be vital in determining the success of any outcome. By drawing together data from a wide range of sources, the ConVEx platform will be a powerful tool in helping us to understand the mobility landscape, to evaluate the performance of any new mobility schemes or interventions and to define positive transport futures towards which we want to progress. My intention is that, working with organisations like Zenzic, Reed Mobility will play a constructive, collaborative and respected role in delivering these outcomes.

You can find out more information about Reed Mobility here.