The future of mobility: meeting the infrastructure challenge

Out-Law Analysis | 02 Dec 2020 | 10:34 am | 7 min. read

Connected, autonomous, shared and electric (CASE) vehicles rely on a diverse and complex range of infrastructure, both physical and digital, to support their operation. Delivering this infrastructure will depend on meeting commercial and security challenges, and establishing effective models of collaboration.

A wireless future

A degree of connectivity is common in large numbers of cars on the road today. Satnav and emergency response services rely on radio communications, while lane assist and adaptive cruise control systems use sensor-based technology to connect with the highway and other road users.

However, the next generation of CASE vehicles have the potential to far exceed current levels of connectivity by communicating with other vehicles, road signs and markings, passengers and pedestrians and a wide range of services involving wireless data transfer. This ubiquitous level of digital communication is often referred to as 'vehicle-to-everything' (V2X) connectivity.

V2X connectivity can deliver a broad range of benefits, from improving road safety and reducing journey times through automatic transmission of information on accidents and congestion, to detecting potholes in need of repair. Beyond this, fully autonomous vehicles will be wholly reliant on wireless connectivity to detect and communicate with the environment around them.

Highways England

Strategic business plan 2020-25

The rise of connected and autonomous vehicles is likely to radically change travel as we know it. Connected systems promise better information direct to users, while autonomy could increase people’s mobility, reduce incidents and improve national productivity. Our roads, our infrastructure and even our ways of working will need to change to embrace and enable this new way of travelling.

Physical and digital infrastructure

To support V2X connectivity, the following infrastructural changes have been made, or will need to be implemented on a wider scale:

  • reliable, fast and secure wireless data networks. The deployment of 5G networks will be transformative;
  • edge computing to power V2X connectivity. This involves computing power being positioned away from the centralised cloud and closer to the environment that needs it, allowing data to be collected and processed without potential security and latency issues;
  • physical infrastructure such as deployment of existing street furniture, road signs, traffic lights, and markings to regulate the flow of traffic and convey messages of upcoming incidents to vehicles.

The Transport for London (TfL) 'Surface Intelligent Transport System' (SITS) is an example of how infrastructure is changing to enable the future of mobility. SITS replaces the existing traffic signal control and incident management systems used in the city and provides users with a more ‘intelligent’ service.

SITS comprises several systems aiming to provide TfL with greater control over flows of traffic using a range of systems, tools and data to maximise capacity on London’s road network. A product roadmap enables the systems to evolve and take advantage of new technology including V2X connectivity. Partners include Sopra Steria, tasked with the development of the control centre system to manage the road network in real time based on data collected, and Siemens Mobility, which will provide the control centre to enable data to be shared with connected vehicles. Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, has provided legal support to TfL SITS since 2015.

Managing systems and data

Commentators forecast an explosion of CASE vehicle data, with Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich predicting that an average connected vehicle will generate approximately 4,000 GB of data every day. This will not only drive demand in the infrastructure and systems needed to store and process this data, particularly data centre capacity, but it will also create a need for new platforms to manage and realise value from the data.

In_figures_1

TfL has been a pioneer in making its public data freely available to developers and others. However, with a much larger and more diverse data ecosystem emerging, and legal questions around access to data coming to the fore, TfL's approach represents the tip of the iceberg. Traditional business models for delivering transport infrastructure will need to be re-designed around the huge potential value of the data generated from CASE vehicles and infrastructure.

Colvin Simon

Simon Colvin

Partner, Head of Technology, Media and Telecoms

One approach to modelling mobility environments which is likely to increase in importance is the use of digital twins

Digital twins

Increasingly, transport authorities and others are choosing to develop and test infrastructure for CASE vehicles on test tracks and in other simulated environments. For example, led by Airspan Networks, AutoAir successfully created the first 5G-enabled infrastructure for autonomous vehicles in the UK, using small cells and millimetre wave spectrum to control autonomous vehicles. The project is funded by a multi-million pound investment from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme which is supported by Pinsent Masons.

One approach to modelling mobility environments which is likely to increase in importance is the use of digital twins.

A digital twin consists of a virtual model of a real life environment, which can be used for simulation and development purposes. Digital twins have the potential to significantly reduce the time and cost of developing and testing new products. However, digital twins can also have value far beyond mere testing grounds. With real time updates based on data from connected vehicles and other inputs, they could be the backbone of future traffic management systems and generate live and predictive information – for example on changes to road layouts – to be communicated to connected vehicles.

Building the commercial case

While there is much to fire the imagination, a clear focus needs to be maintained on the commercial reality of investing in CASE vehicle infrastructure. The business case for rollout of 5G networks is challenging when looking at low margin revenue models from current generation consumer and wholesale mobile broadband services:

  • Mobile network operators (MNOs) will need to identify and capitalise on new 5G enterprise applications to fill the revenue gap created through the funding of 5G networks. However, there is much to go at – McKinsey estimates that the overall revenue pool from car data monetisation could reach between $450 and $750 billion globally by 2030, which gives an indication of the new revenue streams that may be available. Although, with new market entrants and diversification in the supply chain, MNOs will face tough competition to capitalise on these opportunities.
  • Public buy-in is needed to drive business confidence to invest. However, there is a 'chicken and egg' element to the dynamic between consumers and businesses, which is highlighted in the case of electric vehicles. Consumers are reluctant to invest in electric vehicles which are not supported by widespread charging infrastructure, while businesses may be unable or unwilling to wait for market growth to drive sufficient return on their investment in such infrastructure. Public policy interventions can provide a key lever to bridging this gap between consumers and businesses.
  • Interoperability and the development of common standards will also have a major influence on the infrastructure business case. Common standards, for example international agreement on the spectrum bands to be used for data transmission to and from autonomous vehicles, can enable economies of scale and reduce R&D costs. Similarly, greater uniformity in the public policy approach to CASE vehicles both domestically, such as between transport authorities in different regions of the UK, and internationally will help drive confidence and enable long-term strategic decision making by industry.

Securing the technology

Cybersecurity needs to be treated as be a core strategic component of the planning and deployment of CASE vehicle infrastructure, including in-vehicle, roadside and core systems, by both industry and the public sector.

Recent research suggests investment in strengthening automotive cybersecurity will increase from $4.9bn in 2020 to $9.7bn in 2030. Security plays a particularly vital role in this context given that cyber attacks can compromise vehicle safety features and ultimately threaten human life.

Colvin Simon

Simon Colvin

Partner, Head of Technology, Media and Telecoms

A clearer approach is needed around software patches to deal with any emerging vulnerabilities, not least to address questions of liability for applying updates and the period in which the manufacturer is obliged to supply patches 

Consumer buy-in to the idea of autonomous vehicles remains tentative, and one or more high profile failures could set back the development of the industry significantly.

Industry needs to adapt by introducing greater standardisation to its approach to security, for example by developing a model for end-to-end security testing of components from multiple suppliers. A clearer approach is also needed around software patches to deal with any emerging vulnerabilities, not least to address questions of liability for applying updates and the period in which the manufacturer is obliged to supply patches – how should the typical lifespan of a vehicle be determined?

From an international regulatory perspective, in June 2020 the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations – a working group of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe – passed two new regulations on cybersecurity and software updates. These establish clear performance and audit requirements for car manufacturers in various disciplines including managing vehicle cyber risks and providing a new basis for safe and secure software updates. In the EU, the cybersecurity regulation will be mandatory for all new vehicle types from July 2022, while the general adherence to UN regulations in the global automotive sector means that the widespread adoption of these regulations across the world is expected.

Finally, decisions taken by policymakers in relation to security of telecoms infrastructure will have a significant bearing on the deployment of infrastructure. The UK government estimates that its decision to ban the purchase of Huawei equipment after 31 December 2020 will delay 5G rollout in the UK by two to three years.

Collaboration is vital

Rolling out new CASE infrastructure will require collaboration across a diverse supply chain that includes traditional infrastructure providers, and technology providers and data analytic specialists. 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, but look to move away from the vertical supply chain model entirely and engage from the outset of the procurement process as partners under a collaboration model.

Our recent report on 'infratech' – the convergence of digital technologies with physical infrastructure – reported on a survey of businesses across the infrastructure and technology sectors, highlighting increasing appetite for closer collaboration. The survey revealed that most infrastructure developers expect to enter into joint venture agreements with technology companies as a way to gain long­ term access to technology. Other likely forms of collaboration highlighted by the report include public private partnerships and "alliance models". The latter eliminates the need for separate contracts with each entity involved in a project, by utilising a single contract covering all participating parties, under which objectives, risks and benefits are shared.

Collaboration between industry and the public sector will be needed on several levels:

  • engagement with transport authorities will assist in the planning and delivery of services and streetworks, such as planning around the intersection of different modes of transport, and
  • engagement with legislators is vital to help all parties understand what longer-term technological trends are expected and how regulatory frameworks need to adapt. One example of this is the question over the extent to which government should stimulate the electric vehicle market with targeted interventions in the roll-out of charging infrastructure.

Experience shows that infrastructure planning benefits from a long-term view. For both local authorities and central government this means putting in place robust, forward-looking strategies to support the deployment of CASE vehicle infrastructure. For industry, it means being bold in investing in infrastructure on the basis of such strategies, and being open-minded towards new collaboration models.

Co-written by Nick Hutton of Pinsent Masons.

The way we move is changing radically – climate change, superfast telecoms networks, electrification, AI and digital payments are rewriting the transport rulebook. Autonomous and shared vehicles and mobility as a service are fast becoming a reality.