As technology has developed, road transport has evolved with it. Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) are set to transform the way we travel in the future. Cars and other vehicles will be able to function without human control, as well as connect to devices, the Internet and surrounding infrastructure.
CAVs have the potential to change how we interact with the world around us. The improvement in mobility could increase access to education, employment and healthcare, as well as reduce stress and give time back to commuters. Meanwhile, road transport remains largely dependent on oil, with predictions suggesting that CO2 emissions will decrease only by 11.4% between 2005 and 2050.
The opportunity that CAVS offer to make roads cleaner and more accessible cannot be overlooked. To be able to take advantage of the benefits that these vehicles have to offer, we need to ensure that the appropriate planning and investment is taking place.
What are the challenges facing CAVs?
In our whitepaper 'Paving the way: building the road infrastructure of the future for connected and autonomous vehicles', research suggested that CAVs will only be able to utilise their full specification if they are able to make use of, and connect with, the appropriate infrastructure.
Building and adapting this infrastructure brings challenges to the adoption of CAVs. The UK does not currently have the level of connectivity needed to support autonomous vehicles (AVs), requiring a significant level of research and investment to overcome this.
Furthermore, these vehicles will need to be accessible to the population as a whole and the UK's road infrastructure would need to be completely adapted including the suburban and rural areas. Until it is fully understood how CAVs and AVs will be adopted by the general public it is difficult to ascertain the full extent of the changes that will be needed.
How will road infrastructure need to change to support CAVs?
One of the primary challenges facing the adoption of CAVs is the physical road infrastructure that would be needed to support them. Governments and highway authorities will need to consider where investment is needed to ensure that safety is maintained and the benefits of the technology can be fully appreciated.
Electrification is often associated with CAVs. After the UK government's announcement that cars and vans powered solely by petrol and diesel will be banned from 2040, charging points are one of the more obvious physical changes that will need to appear.
Where these charging points will be is less clear. We are yet to determine where the most practical and effective locations will be. Homes and offices appear to be the most obvious choices, yet there is discussion around the use of service stations and supermarkets.
In Milton Keynes, research is currently being undertaken to identify the most effective methods for charging electric vehicles (EVs) and is examining the possibilities of charging in motion. It may be that charging points become redundant and roads will need to be fitted with further technology.
Another example of a physical change that would need to be considered when adopting CAVs would be road markings and signage. Visibility would need to be reviewed and maintained regularly to ensure that markings could be safely identified by AVs.
Crossings and junctions would also need to be reviewed as roads without signalling would be more difficult for AVs to deal with. Controlled signalling is likely to be required in most situations where possible.
Aside from necessary physical infrastructure changes, there will also be investment needed to be able to experience the full benefits that are possible with CAVs. By taking advantage of the technology offered, there is the potential for drivers to be able to leave their vehicle in drop off zones to avoid wasting time searching for parking spaces. Car park owners could also increase the spaces they provide as vehicles would be able to block each other in and move when necessary without needing the driver.
Preparing and planning for CAVs
The adoption of AVs and CAVs will require significant planning and preparation to ensure that infrastructure can cope with the changes that they will bring. Charging, road markings and parking are just some of the aspects of physical infrastructure that will need to be explored to make roads ready for the future of travel.
Our whitepaper 'Paving the way: building the road infrastructure of the future for connected and autonomous vehicles' is recommended to find out more about the changes that may be necessary in future years and how these will impact the way we travel.