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Infrastructure must be built with connected and autonomous vehicles in mind

ANALYSIS: The mainstream adoption of new connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) will depend on infrastructure being updated with CAV technologies in mind: in this respect, collaboration between the infrastructure and technology sectors is essential.11 Apr 2018

The future of CAVs promises a world where vehicles transmit and receive data constantly, with a myriad of associated possibilities, from enabling the safe, automated, or semi-automated, and efficient flow of traffic along motorways or within cities, and directing occupied or unoccupied vehicles to available parking or storage spaces, to the sharing of weather or accident warnings, and facilitating the exchange of information digitally between vehicles themselves.

Car manufacturers and their parts and software suppliers cannot deliver this vision alone. There are pivotal roles for telecoms operators as well as those funding, developing and operating underlying infrastructure, such as roads, traffic management systems and communications networks.

Some of the infrastructure-related challenges ahead are obvious: there will be a need to retrofit existing highways and roads with technology to enable CAVs, and it is equally imperative that new highways and roads are designed with CAVs in mind. However, it is also important that the future of CAVs is considered in relation to infrastructure beyond the road networks.

The modernisation of other transportation systems such as rail networks and airports should factor in how vehicles of the future will change the way we travel. This is especially important for projects with long time lags between project initiation and commencement of use – for example, thought should be given to the need for extensive parking at stations being built or regenerated as part of the HS2 project, or perhaps the use of compact, multi-level storage facilities for CAVs instead of open parking lots for human-driven cars.

We can also anticipate that the vast majority of CAVs over time will be electric vehicles. A whole raft of infrastructure will be needed to support their use. This includes the installation of new charging stations at motorway service stations and at the home, while underlying electricity networks will also need to be upgraded – this could support 'vehicle-to-grid' or 'vehicle-to-everything' solutions based on the potential to make use of the battery power in those vehicles.

New communications infrastructure will be a central enabler of CAVs, including wireless technologies such as '5G', sensor technologies, and fibre networks.

5G technologies promise not only ultra-high capacity and speed broadband.; they offer the potential for communications networks to operate more efficiently through 'network slicing', which is where multiple virtual networks for the transmission and receipt of data can operate over common communications infrastructure. 5G will mean vehicle-to-everything communications are more effective due to low latency and higher reliability – this should dramatically improve the reliability of data services for CAVs and reduce the number of network 'drop-outs'.

CAVs will also rely on short-range sensors, radar and image recognition technologies, as well as mesh networks and existing standard mobile networks.

Wireless technologies require backhaul – for CAVs this means fibred-up highways and city roads with dense fibre feeding wireless transmitters. Highways England's National Roads Telecommunications Service (NRTS2) project is an example of work in this regard.

Delivering the telecoms infrastructure needed for CAVs comes with regulatory challenges, including access to infrastructure sites and to spectrum. However, legislative reforms, such as the newly revised Electronic Communications Code in the UK, should make it easier for telecoms infrastructure to be installed and maintained, while regulators, including Ofcom, are already making some of the key frequency bands of spectrum available for the provision of 5G services that will be used for CAVs.

The private sector interest in CAVs is strong and significant spend has been allocated to research and development globally. However, without a well-defined business case for CAV infrastructure, government has an important role in supporting the testing of CAV technology and to further define the infrastructure requirements for a CAV future. In the UK, the government's 5G testbed and trials programme may be significant in this respect.

Rolling out new infrastructure fit for CAVs is no simple exercise – it requires collaboration across a diverse supply chain that includes traditional infrastructure providers and technology providers. With the importance of technology and adaptability in these projects, there is a need to re-consider where the technology companies and experts sit in the supply chain for testing, procuring, designing, building and operating transport infrastructure assets. They are unlikely to remain as sub-contractors at the base of a layered supply chain.

Our report on 'infratech' – the convergence of digital technologies with physical infrastructure – last year, which reported on a survey of businesses across the infrastructure and technology sectors, highlighted increasing appetite for closer collaboration.

The survey revealed that most infrastructure developers expect to enter into joint venture agreements with technology companies by 2020 as a way to gain long-term access to technology. Public private partnerships are other likely forms of collaboration, while the report also indicated the potential for new "alliance models" to emerge in the longer term as the preferred model for collaboration in future.

Alliance models work by eliminating the need for separate contracts with each entity involved in a project. Instead, a single contract covers all participating parties. Objectives, risks and benefits are shared.

In light of closer collaboration, and the huge value of data that CAVs will generate, traditional business models for delivering transport infrastructure need to be re-considered.

There will be opportunities, for example, to target new and innovative services at a captive audience – passengers travelling in autonomous vehicles will not be driving and instead are likely to be connected to wireless internet services. Authorities could look to secure the involvement of private sector partners to fund infrastructure in return for concessions to monetise the route. Might we see the technology giants building and operating road networks in the future?

Contractual models will need to change to incentivise the necessary investment in new infrastructure and to recognise the value of infrastructure assets will change over the life of those assets.

Outcomes-based contracts have the potential to deliver infrastructure needed for CAVs. For instance, the focus of an outcomes-based contract might be on delivering a road that can accommodate X thousand cars per hour at an average speed of Y rather than on delivering static requirements and outputs.

There are further challenges ahead in relation to traffic and data management.

Legacy traffic management systems often aren't optimised and fully integrated. This results in data from sensors and other deployed technologies, such as at junctions or in tunnels, not being fully fused or correlated, and therefore less useful for predicting future conditions. It is important in CAV procurement programmes to address these kinds of issues by sourcing solutions to improve the quality, speed and integration of data, to allow faster detection and response to incidents, including predictive response, and to provide a 'single view' of the systems for better decision making by orchestrating and analysing data from multiple data sources. This is likely to include data from private sources, such as Google's Waze application which is used as an additional source of traffic information by Transport for London.

Standards and interoperability of data and devices is another barrier to infrastructure assets to communicating with vehicles and vehicles to communicating with other vehicles. Several local councils are looking at standards and interoperability, including as part of 'smart city' initiatives, and infrastructure providers are increasing offering connected products that can interact with the entire ecosystem for intelligent transport.

Connecting "systems of systems" opens up security vulnerabilities. Cybersecurity is a critical risk, particularly for traditional construction and engineering companies in the infrastructure for which managing and utilising data has only recently become an imperative. It will be important for the infrastructure sector to understand and guard against cybersecurity risks.

Businesses that embrace collaboration and sensibly manage risks will be at the forefront of developments in infrastructure for the vehicles of the future.

Simon Colvin and Daryl Cox are specialists in infratech at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.