Plexal member SMLL is unlocking the future of mobility through trials in London testbeds
Since the Olympic Games wrapped up in 2012, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has become a hotbed for innovation in mobility. And one of the biggest players to have moved in is the Smart Mobility Living Lab (SMLL), which has established London-based testbeds for Connected Autonomous Vehicles in Greenwich and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
The lab is a collaborative project involving Innovate UK, the Transport Research Laboratory and a consortium of partners, and is aimed at enabling technology and service providers to get their solutions market-ready faster by testing them in real-world settings.
SMLL has been operating in the park since 2018, and while they’ve been a friend of Plexal for some time we’re excited to welcome them as an official member of our community.
We caught up with Lucien Linders, general manager at SMLL, to find out more about what they’ve got planned, and how they envisage the future of mobility.
Welcome to Plexal Lucien! For anyone not familiar with SMLL, can you tell us more about what you do?
Once our work is completed in 2020, SMLL will be the world’s most advanced urban testbed for connected and automated mobility (CAM) of its kind, using 24km of public and private roads in London (across the Royal Borough of Greenwich and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park). Our aim is to enable new mobility and transport technologies to be developed and validated in a real-world, connected environment.
“The park contains all the ingredients representing a modern city and its mobility system”
Sounds exciting! Testbeds are a hugely important ingredient for a mobility ecosystem that enables innovation. Why do you think London in particular is a good city for testbeds?
As an inclusive European megacity, London is home to people from all walks of life who are willing to embrace and test new modes of transport and services. The city’s transport system is also internationally recognised as effective, integrated and safe.
And unlike many other major cities, London’s road system is highly complex. It features many modes of transport, as well as pedestrians and cyclists, all interacting at once. This diversity and complexity makes it the ultimate test environment for CAM.
We couldn’t agree more, and to misquote Sinatra if you can make it in London you can make it anywhere. But to follow up on what you said, out of everywhere in London why did you choose Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as your second testbed site outside of Greenwich? What makes it an appealing testbed?
The park is a high-quality built environment with the range of modern residential, retail and commercial features that are arranged in a formal planning style. You’ve also got major venues such as the Olympic Stadium and Westfield Shopping Centre. The park contains all the ingredients representing a modern city and its mobility system, including the strong support of local authorities such as the London Legacy Development Corporation to explore how it evolves in the future.
This is an ideal complement to our Greenwich testbed site, which has historical, features.
And is there anything you can share about the insights you’ve collected from your work in both sites so far?
The outputs from our Shared Research Programme are confidential for now, but once the SMLL is opened to a wider range of customers we expect the programme to expand, with the insights being shared more widely.
What we can say is that through running public participation trials we’ve found that people’s confidence in the safety of autonomous vehicles (AV) is likely to increase if they’ve had first-hand experience of being driven in one.
“we’ve found that people’s confidence in the safety of autonomous vehicles (AV) is likely to increase if they’ve had first-hand experience of being driven in one”
Would you say we’ve got more work to do with getting people on board?
One of the biggest challenges that we face within the CAM sector is public adoption. It would be naïve to implement autonomous vehicles and transport services, expecting people not to be sceptical.
That’s why we run trials and testing at SMLL – we want to find answers and solutions to address the questions people may have about CAM before it becomes more mainstream so they feel more at ease using CAM services.
So how do you think we can bring people along for the journey and build trust in CAV?
The best way to bring people on the journey is to give them a voice, consult with them frequently and give them the opportunity to experience the possibilities for themselves. There are lots of organisations working closely in co-operation to solve the many interconnected issues.
We need everyone to use their imagination and signal how they want to use public and private transport if they’re not the driver. This CAM revolution is a fabulous chance for society to redefine what it wants from mobility solutions.
How far away is this revolution?
CAV and CAM technology is still in the early stages, so vigorous research, testing and trials must be done before it become mainstream.
We see inspiring concept cars released by the motor manufacturers and they appear to be ready to drive away but in reality, they’re only 95% ready. It’s the final 5% that’s most challenging, and that work could still take decades.
The key issue is that we need to be certain that introducing AV onto our roads won’t have unintended consequences. It isn’t just about the technology in the cars, its questions around how to insure them, and how to service or repair them. If we take human-driven cars out of cities, what will that mean for passengers who need personal assistance?
AV will still contribute to dirty air in our cities, so who and how will we regulate the numbers on the road?
It’s definitely a complicated road ahead, but there will also be lots of benefits. What do you think are some of the most important?
There’s a long list of environmental, practical and safety benefits that CAM will bring to society. Put simply, machines make far fewer mistakes than humans.
An AV won’t break the speed limit or put someone’s life in danger by driving while tired or under the influence. And because CAV technology needs to meet such high safety standards, our roads will inevitably become safer both for people inside vehicles and others around them like cyclists and pedestrians .
Thanks so much for your time Lucien! Before you go, can you give us a taster for some of your upcoming projects in the park and tell us more about what you hope to get from becoming an official Plexal member?
We have a strong pipeline of customers ready to work with us to test their CAM technology and solutions. You can expect to see SMLL’s own branded AV driving around the park and gathering data to enrich our virtual testing environment. If you see it on the road it means something exciting is going on!
As for joining Plexal, we’re here because it’s an innovation hub with emphasis on the future of mobility. We’re looking forward to working in the vibrant ecosystem and connecting with other innovative businesses. The community feel at Plexal is positive and encouraging.