There is a lot of activity going on in the realm of autonomous systems and vehicles at the moment. The challenge is having visibility of these and cross sector opportunities and so here is a summary of the latest activity together in to a single place…
What are autonomous systems?
Well, the AADKTN’s excellent report Autonomous Systems: Opportunities and Challenges for the UK proposes two definitions which suit the purposes of this article most admirably:
1. A sensing or monitoring system which may include a vehicle or vehicles (submarine, water surface, land, air, space) which is operated autonomously (or capable of being operated autonomously) and
2. A broader autonomous and intelligent system, or system of systems. This may include robotics or autonomous vehicles, where data acquired by a sensing or monitoring capability is utilised as part of the overall autonomous decision-making process
There is also a useful distinction made between autonomous and automatic – an automatic system has a fully pre-programmed activity or mission whereas an autonomous system has the ability to autonomously react to its situation awareness ie an autonomous system interprets something and makes a decision for action based on that interpretation. The market for autonomous system is likely to grow exponentially, as we discover more applications for them. The 2009 Royal Academy of Engineering’s report Autonomous System: Social, Legal and Ethical Issues (download it here) says, “applications for technologies that can operate without human control, learn as they function and ostensively make decisions, are growing.”
Why use autonomous systems?
Autonomous systems are being used in situations where human involvement is expensive, dangerous, difficult or (let’s be controversial here) superfluous. Additionally, sensing systems can be cheaper, smaller, pervasive, invasive, impartial and eat nothing more than sunlight. We just have to create the tools for the job, learn how to use them intelligently and apply them judiciously.
GIS2013 at the beginning of July, showcased some of the breadth of applications where autonomous systems are being used, from agriculture to transport, defence to ecology, health to environment and beyond. It’s not just drones, you know!
Earlier this year, David Willetts identified Robotics and Autonomous Systems as one of 8 great technologies and allocated a share of £600million investment in in these (read more here, or watch the whole speech on youtube here). The new Special Interest Group Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS SIG) will be developing this topic and forming a vital point for projects and interested groups to coalesce around.
Autonomous Systems in Marine....
Having identified that global demand for autonomous underwater systems is predicted to grow to $2.3bn (£1.4bn) by 2022, the Marine Industries Alliance recently proposed developing a strategy and action plan for marine autonomous systems (MAS) in order to enable the UK to capitalize on its enormous strengths in this area. This was enthusiastically reinforced, and the process begun, at a recent workshop that the Transport KTN ran with the RAS SIG and the MIA, at which over 40 senior marine experts from across industry, research and academia participated (more news on this, and the action plan when the report is issued! Join the RAS SIG to be kept up to date with this, subscribe to their RSS feed, or follow @tsbrassig).
....on the roads...
The Marine industry is not the only one to target the value of autonomous systems – autonomous cars such as Google’s self-driving car not to mention the research going on in platooning of road vehicles such as the SARTRE project, have been making headline news for some time, and the DfT has recently announced it will be testing these on British roads by the end of the year. The Automotive Council’s workstream on intelligent mobility relies heavily on autonomous systems and sensors.
on - and off - the rails....
Network Rail’s Technical Strategy identifies autonomous systems in its modeling and decision support portfolio, including “Intelligent traffic management programmes such as FuTRO [which] could generate energy-efficient timetables for a better match between passenger demand and train capacity.” , and the TSLG’s strategy document highlights the requirement for autonomous vehicles for command, control and communications (see for example p22 2.16).
Bringing it all together
The Transport KTN, with our specialists in intelligent mobility, rail, marine, auto and freight, is in a unique position to be able to take a strategic view over all developments to enable knowledge exchange between all sectors and ensure that maximum value is derived from what is happening. We are developing a number of think-tank workshops around this topic, as well as maintaining close links with the Future Cities work and all key industry players. If you’re looking for somewhere to find out about new developments and make new connections, our Intelligent Mobility group is a great place to start. Just join now, and follow us on @transportktn.