The UK’s innovation agency has launched an in-depth study that sets out what the UK transport system may look like in 2050 with fully autonomous vehicles, digital twins and 7G wireless, outlining the likely steps along the way to achieving this.
The aim is to gather UK government and industry around a single vision, says Innovate UK. The study identifies six key areas, from connectivity, power, autonomy and infrastructure to demand and business models.
“We will use this vision and our assessment of the UK’s relative strengths to determine where we invest our efforts over the coming years,” said Indro Mukerjee, Chief Executive Officer at Innovate UK. “We hope it will also inform and guide our partners in the public sector and in industry when they are making their investment decisions. We also welcome feedback to help us refine and improve this work.”
Autonomy will make road vehicles smarter, create opportunities for new services such as last-mile delivery by drone and deliver fully autonomous urban transport, and the report anticipates that the urban transport system, air transport, rail freight, ferries to and from UK islands and 90 percent of motorway HGVs will be fully autonomous by 2050.
The report sees widespread 4G connectivity by 2025 and 5G by 2030 with widespread 7G wireless (the generation after 6G currently in early development) by 2050 that will connect all road vehicles with each other and enable a sophisticated central traffic management system.
Electricity, hydrogen, ammonia and sustainable fuel will replace petroleum and create new opportunities for generation, production and distribution. Data connectivity is a key area, with the estimated global market size for vehicle data alone is $750 billion in 2030. One UK vehicle data company is planning to go public via a US special purpose SPAC to raise hundreds of millions of dollars.
But the report goes a long way beyond this. It sees road vehicles capable of cooperating with other nearby vehicles to support traffic flow and safety by 2050 and capable of fully cooperative driving by 2050. This improved connectivity will be vital for real-time data gathering and will provide key information for the public sector, industry, travellers and maintenance. For example, real-time data will improve planning of road usage and lead to efficiencies, cost savings and emissions reductions.
Developments in connectivity will enable planning simulations using artificial intelligence and machine learning and lead to more efficient traffic management systems with the creation of digital twins that will improve travel planning and routing.
The advanced train protection system, the European Train Control System (ETCS) level 2, will be rolled out on all UK trains by 2040 and 95% of UK mainline rail by 2050, while autonomous unmanned air traffic management (UTM) has been demonstrated and could be adopted commercially in the 2020s. This will be fully integrated into current air traffic, including commercial flight, by 2050 says the report. All recharging and refuelling systems and vehicles will be fully internet connected by 2030 to maximise energy management for motorists, vehicles and energy networks
“It is a time of incredible change for transport. UK and global net zero targets, greater connectivity and digitalisation, automation, and changing consumer habits all present significant challenges for transport industries,” said Mukerjee. “Rising to meet these challenges offers great opportunities for economic growth and for societal benefit – a cleaner environment, and better and more efficient ways for us all to get around and to deliver goods.”
The vision document will be regularly updated and used to inform decisions on future investments.
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