Innovation and the importance of connected and autonomous vehicles to Greenwich

 

The Royal Borough of Greenwich is one of London’s 33 Boroughs. Situated south of the River Thames, it is a place that has long been associated with scientific invention, navigation and discovery, recognised worldwide through its association with the Greenwich Meridian and as the ‘home of time’. With its world-famous observatory, world heritage site and the more recent attraction of The O2, Greenwich welcomes over 18 million visitors each year, generating ~£1.4bn for the local economy. The long tradition of innovation continues today, not least with our work on connected and autonomous vehicles and ‘smart’ mobility.  Our visitors in the future may not only arrive in automated vehicles but also come to celebrate the ground-breaking work being undertaken right now, within the Smart Mobility Living Lab: London (SMLL).

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 I have worked for the Royal Borough of Greenwich for 30 years and have seen it undergo a dramatic transformation to become one of London’s most dynamic and fastest-growing Boroughs. New districts are being created all along Greenwich’s waterfront which will result in more than 40,000 new homes, 100,000 new residents and thousands of new jobs.  But in common with other cities around the world, this transformation brings with it a host of challenges - congestion, pollution, and pressure on infrastructure and services, housing and challenges of social integration to name - effectively ‘diseconomies of scale’. With the proportion of the world’s population living in cities rapidly rising, more than 70% of the world’s green-house gases being generated in cities, and with some projections suggesting that by the end of the century, the world’s largest city will have a population of 88 million, (Lagos in Nigeria if you are wondering) new thinking is needed.

 

Forward-thinking local authorities realise that these problems can’t be solved by traditional approaches alone - new technologies and new approaches are required that view the city holistically. The Royal Borough of Greenwich’s response was to set up its own innovation company, DG Cities Ltd, to understand how new technologies will impact on cities and how we can harness them to capture the opportunities they can bring and, working alongside industry, accelerate their deployment to benefit the economy and environment. 

 

And the last few years have been a non-stop rollercoaster for DG Cities. Our first foray into the world of smart mobility was in 2014 when we were invited to be part of the GATEway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) driverless car project led by TRL. (Look out for TRL’s blog post on the GATEway project next week!) This was one of the first Innovate UK-funded CAV projects and from the beginning it hit the headlines in a big way. The media interest in autonomous vehicles was evident, with a huge group of press assembled for the Ministerial launch of the winning projects. That was the moment that I realised that we were part of something significant. Four years later, connected and autonomous vehicles continue to capture the imagination of the media and the public. GATEway achieved a huge amount over its three years - we delivered the first public trials with using a driverless delivery pod with Ocado, operated a fleet of driverless passenger pods that kept going through winter snow storms, undertook parking trials, looked in depth at the impact of autonomous vehicles on the logistics industry, and the consequential impact on the design and spatial planning in cities.

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GATEway has led onto a range of other initiatives within the Royal Borough, exploring everything from autonomous vehicle mapping requirements to the movement of autonomous platoons across junctions.  In all of these projects, DG Cities looks to provide the city perspective and to ensure that the needs of cities and their residents, the ultimate users of future transport and mobility solutions, are taken into account. After all, these new solutions will only be accepted if they deliver real world benefits to real people.

 SMLL fits that ethos perfectly and we are thrilled to be part of such a ground-breaking consortium, one that will ultimately help to develop more intelligent, safe and joined up transport systems and confirm Greenwich and London’s reputation as a world leader in new mobility solutions.

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Our involvement enables us to influence how autonomous vehicles and associated services are developed and deployed and ensure that the needs of city authorities and their citizens are taken into account. There are additional benefits too. Apart from bringing new investment, we are seeing new businesses and jobs coming to the area and it is providing new insights on future skill needs of the sector. And in the future, maybe it will add to Greenwich’s already rich mix of visitor attractions.

For more information on DG Cities, click here.