Move UK’s fleet of cars is driving around Greenwich in South East London ©Julia Claxton
Move UK’s fleet of cars is driving around Greenwich in South East London ©Julia Claxton

Smart cities special: self-driving cars

Around the streets of London a coalition of firms is trialling cars with automated driving systems  

From the outside, the five Land Rover Discovery Sport vehicles driving around Greenwich, South East London, look like any other (apart from the one with the Move UK logo emblazoned on its silver side). But take a closer look, and you’ll find a boot full of cutting-edge technology, four radar corner sensors, and a video camera at the front of the vehicle. 

This fleet is a live trial of cars fitted with automated driving systems (ADS), being tested in real world conditions. The project is run by Move UK, jointly funded by the UK government (the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles and innovation agency Innovate UK) and industry, via a consortium of partners including Bosch (providing the sensors and systems), Jaguar Land Rover (the vehicles), Direct Line Group (responsible for insurance) and UK SME The Floow (automotive telematics experts). The project’s aim is to accelerate the development – and eventual deployment – of driverless systems.

During the trials the ADS run “in silent mode”, collecting data as they go, explains the project’s mobility lead Ben Morris when SM visits Move UK’s Greenwich HQ with Direct Line Group chief procurement officer Rob Douglas. This data can be fed into an AI system via 3G networks during the day and WiFi overnight. 

Morris shows us a video captured by one of the fleet, where a car pulling out causes the Move UK vehicle to brake suddenly. Combining this footage with the sensor data provides evidence for future ADS systems and how they could be programmed to respond in similar situations. 

For insurers such as Direct Line Group, the question autonomous vehicle development raises is “how does this all interact”, says Douglas. “How do we rate the vehicle and driver to provide the right level of cover – and remain competitive – now there’s a mass of different variables? In the event of an accident, who is at fault: the person or the system?” 

With this added complexity comes a need for procurement to work with the supply base to figure out the best way forward. The “front end” project in particular for Douglas and his team is how the data collected by the ADS can be used. As Douglas puts it: “What suppliers do we need to use it and make sense of it in our world?”

The rise of smart vehicles will also impact on Direct Line’s ability to repair them (it repairs more than 50% of accident-damaged cars itself via DLG Auto Services), a further challenge for procurement, as high-tech cars require high-tech repairs. 

“It’s making us think about how we line ourselves up to do that really efficiently and what techniques we need,” Douglas explains. “These types of [potentially proprietary] technology could lead you down the route of vehicle manufacturers dominating.”

Insuring smart tech

Outside of smart cars, Direct Line is also exploring the possibilities of connected home technology, such as working with suppliers to offer automated stopcocks to catch water leaks as a project for customers, says Douglas. To best support the company’s futures team on projects such as these has meant resetting procurement’s mindset, he adds. “We’ve consciously put more senior resource onto it,” he says. “Normally you’d do it based on the level of spend. These aren’t huge spend projects but they are important for the direction of the company. If we can be involved as trusted advisors, it puts us in good stead.”

Also key to success is fostering true collaborative partnerships with suppliers. “Bosch could choose to partner with someone else on this, so it has to be much more reciprocal,” he points out. “We are interested in cooperating. It’s a different mindset as you have got to be a lot more entrepreneurial. Think about how you can get a solution that’s a success for everyone, not just achieving your own objectives.”   

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