By Sarah Gates, Head of Public Policy, Wayve 

For AV Deployment, the Opportunities are Rich and the Challenges Complex

Automated vehicles (AVs) stand to offer huge benefits to UK society, promising £40 billion of economic growth and high-productivity jobs, positioning the UK at the forefront of this emerging technology. This technology also has immense potential to improve road safety, reduce emissions, deliver goods more efficiently and make transportation more accessible to millions of people across the UK.

Today, transportation accounts for the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions among sectors in the UK. AVs can help the UK to achieve net zero, not just by accelerating the transition to electric vehicles, but by making journeys more efficient, reducing congestion, idling emissions, and cutting journey times. Our cities are where AVs can make the biggest impact. Let’s look at London, for example, where, freight vehicles account for a fifth of all vehicle kilometers. According to Transport for London, this number will increase by 26% by 2040 as demand for e-commerce and delivery services grows. But the vast majority of AV technology isn’t being developed for the bustling cities of the UK. 

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Many things that make this city so great: its historic streets and complex road layouts; the ever-changing landscape; are what make driving in this city so challenging. To navigate every situation a car might encounter in a congested urban environment, AVs need to have the onboard intelligence to see, learn and adapt, just like how human drivers tackle the challenges of driving. That’s why it’s important to start by solving the most complex driving problems first.

Autonomous Delivery Vehicles in London: A Case Study with Wayve

Wayve, a London-based start-up, believes the key to unlocking this challenge lies in data and artificial intelligence, which can enable cars to learn to drive like people do but with greater reliability and safety. Its AV2.0 technology continuously learns from observing millions of examples of human driving and applying its ‘learned’ driving skills under the supervision of an AV Safety Operator. This method of teaching a car how to drive using end-to-end machine learning fundamentally changes the way we approach autonomous driving.

This AV2.0 technology has particularly interesting applications for urban logistics as the  AV technology system can generalize – or adapt what it’s learned – to new, previously unseen cities and across two very different vehicles: passenger cars and light commercial vans.

The ability to adapt to new places and vehicle types is very difficult for many autonomous systems that rely on HD maps, LIDAR and rule-based decision-making systems. These hurdles restrict such systems from generalizing g without a substantial re-engineering effort. In response to this challenge, Wayve has developed a lean, vehicle-agnostic automated driving system equipped with artificial intelligence capable of scaling from city to city and vehicle to vehicle.h Daily testing of the AV2.0 technology on UK public roads is already taking place, and later this year,  AV trials will begin in London in partnership with Asda and Ocado Group.

It is cutting-edge applications of AI and robotics in AVs that will unlock this transport revolution for the UK. The UK’s progressive regulatory environment for testing and the Law Commission’s published proposals for the future regulatory framework for automated vehicles enable start-ups like ours to develop AV technology at pace with other global tech giants. It is critical that the UK Government sustain this advantage with new legislation that legalizes the commercial deployment of AV technology in the UK. 

There is no doubt that autonomous vehicles are going to become a reality. The only questions remaining are how quickly, and where first. Now is the time for the UK to grasp this opportunity.