I brought SMLL to the Institute of Engineering and Technology – here’s what happened


Last year, the government’s Industrial Strategy white paper laid out the importance of connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) to the growth of the UK economy in the next two decades.

So, it was only fitting that the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) played host to SMLL in a recent panel event on the challenges and opportunities of deploying CAVs in the wild.

I went along to the session, which was part of the Living in the Internet of Things conference, alongside my consortium colleagues Richard Cuerden, Director at the TRL Academy and Trevor Dorling, Managing Director at DG Cities.

With the portraits of some of humanity’s greatest innovative minds watching us from the walls, it was hard not to feel a bit of pressure.

But in many ways, this pressure is a privilege. It comes with working on a truly ground-breaking project, which is turning the mobility products and services of the future from innovative ideas into commercial reality.

It’s a big responsibility, as we discussed in the session. And we’re here to get it right.

In this blog post, I’m going to jot down some of my thoughts from the event. Read on if you want to find out more.

Talking about the testbed

We kicked off the session by displaying our SMLL mood film. This set the scene and provided some context for what followed. We’re incredibly proud of it, so it was great to see the reaction it got from an audience who had never seen it before!

Then we went on to introduce ourselves and the project. Richard spoke about TRL’s long history of investigating automated and remote controlled vehicles (their first autonomous vehicle trials took place in the 1950s!), and Trevor gave us an insight into the relationship between smart cities and CAVs.

Meanwhile, I explained Cisco’s role in SMLL. I mentioned that I like to concentrate on the ‘connected’ part of CAV more than the ‘autonomous’ bit, because it’s the infrastructure that really underpins everything.

Without connectivity, vehicles won’t know where they are on the road, or in relation to bits of street furniture or even other cars. They need to be able to talk to each other and everything around them that controls their driving behaviour.

So it’s the connectivity that powers the autonomy of the CAVs.

Learning from our audience

Our ] discussion ended with a Q&A with the audience.

It was really great to see so many people had things to ask us. One of the big questions revolved around the idea of citizen involvement. How can ordinary people provide their feedback on CAVs?

This is a crucial part of the work we’re doing with SMLL.

We’re collaborating with the local communities at our testbed sites in the Royal Borough of Greenwich and Stratford, because we know that CAVs only have a future if they serve the needs of the people who will use them. And who better to include in the process than those people themselves?

Trevor, who is Smart Cities Lead at the Royal Borough of Greenwich, made the point that we’re incredibly lucky to have such an engaged local community in Greenwich, where people have experience in transport testbeds after the GateWAY project took place there.

Another thing that our audience was very keen to discuss was safety.

Again, we want to involve as many people as possible in these safety conversations, so it was good to see how passionately our audience felt about it.

We talked a lot about the role of 5G in forming a reliable, low-latency foundation for the CAVs. In connecting the cars to each other, and to the wider infrastructure, we will be able to reduce the risk of accidents on the road.

The complexity behind safety is something we explored in episode five of our Journey Makers podcast. I recommended it to our audience at the event – and I recommend it to you too! 

Why SMLL is at home in the IET

The word industry, in traditional parlance, means ‘to work hard’.

This is exactly what we’re doing. We’re working hard to use technology to bring about safer, more efficient and better joined-up transport systems, which will change the way people travel – for the better.

And this is what I really reflected on as I came away from the event. We’re doing something that will impact everyone in some way. Everyone who lives, works or passes through London is invested in this.

As I said earlier, that’s both a pressure and a privilege.

Maybe one day our achievements will have a place among the engineering greats on the Institute’s walls? I certainly hope so.