House of Lords: Autonomous Vehicles Debate

House of Lords: Autonomous Vehicles Debate

Question for Short Debate

6.10 pm

Asked by Lord Borwick

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the prospects for developing and manufacturing autonomous vehicles as part of the United Kingdom’s car industry.

Lord Borwick (Con): My Lords, I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box and look forward to discussing this important topic with him. As a pillar of the insurance industry, he knows about risk, judging risk and pricing risk and about the enormous importance of managing risk, rather than trying to eliminate it. That is one of the many reasons that the insurance industry is so successful and profitable in the UK.

When we debate autonomous vehicles, we should be thinking big, not just about lane sensors or cameras, but about conveys of driverless lorries delivering freight around the country. I believe we must do all we can to ensure that the UK is at the heart of testing new technologies on our roads, so it is good to see that the Government have said that Britain should be at the forefront of this technology. They were absolutely right. Debating this topic now is so important, as the Government are to report by the end of this year on the legislative framework for testing. There will no doubt be lots of pressure on them to implement regulations that exceed current safety standards. I think that would be wrong.

Some good things are already happening in the UK. At the University of Oxford, the RobotCar UK project has developed sensing and control technology to allow a Nissan LEAF electric car to drive autonomously. The technology catapults are doing excellent work, particularly with Loughborough University. Ricardo is working with a mining company with a 200-mile private road.

There were 230 drink-driving deaths in 2012, and 1,200 people were seriously injured. Fifty-four deaths occurred from drug-driving in the same year. They all occurred within the current safety framework. Google’s cars have driven around 700,000 miles, predominantly in the United States. So far, there have been only two reported crashes. Even then, one was when the car was being driven manually by a human, and the other occasion saw Google’s driverless car hit from behind while waiting at a junction. Google estimates that replacing all cars on the roads with driverless ones would eliminate at least 90% of automobile accidents. Every year, 1.24 million people die in road traffic accidents around the world. Assuming Google is right, that could save around 1.1 million lives worldwide. Interestingly, people in emerging markets are more trusting of autonomous vehicles. Perhaps they are more acutely aware of just how many lives could be saved.

If the safety regulations focus on “maximum” safety, the work will simply be done somewhere else. There are a number of other countries wishing to lead the way on this, including the Netherlands, South Korea and Japan. Ford, General Motors, Nissan and Toyota are all also working on this new technology, but are they all doing this work in the UK? We should be doing all we can to make sure that they are. The car manufacturers, because of product liability issues, will be vigilant to ensure that their vehicles are safe. So the trick for civil servants and Parliament is to draft regulations which enable technological innovation, rather than stifle it.

There will also be challenges for insuring autonomous vehicles as they are being tested on UK roads. If you crash, who is liable? You or the manufacturer? The recent horrific crash of the motorcyclist Mr David Holmes was captured on his motorcycle helmet camera. That this tragic accident was recorded means that there is little argument about what happened. Many new cars have cameras all over them, and autonomous vehicles will have even more to ensure that they operate properly. Indeed, they ought to be fitted with a full black box. This would be able to record in exact detail the route taken, the behaviour of the car and other drivers up until the accident, and the aftermath.

Testing autonomous vehicles will also allow us to lead the way in finding solutions to congestion. This is a huge problem in major cities around the world. There is no doubt that driverless cars with the ability to run at fixed speeds and a fixed distance from the car in front will make far more efficient use of our roads. We have the potential to massively increase capacity without a penny of capital investment.

Take the transportation of freight as well as people. Figures show that one-third of transportation costs are labour costs. These could largely be wiped out. At present, lorry drivers are allowed up to 10 hours per day on the road, but allowing more automated vehicles on the road could mean many more road hours for freight delivery trucks. Platoon driving is being practised now in America, with trucks staying 37 feet apart, the front one in charge of speed and direction. This is being practised now by great companies like Paccar. However, does the “driver” of the second or 10th vehicle, just standing by but not actually touching the controls, have to be limited to 10 hours in the same way?

The capital costs of the road system are enormous but, then, cars and lorries only really use the roads between 6 am and 10 pm. They are virtually empty otherwise, which, given the capital costs, makes them wildly inefficient. Transporting freight in autonomous vehicles in the middle of the night would massively boost the efficiency of roads and, indeed, of the vehicles themselves—all for the same capital cost. Another advantage of platooning is that you can reduce fuel consumption by about 15%.

That means if we successfully test autonomous vehicles, we could feasibly reassess expensive projects like HS2. The justification for HS2 had to completely ignore the development of new technologies like autonomous vehicles, because the technology had not been invented yet. Rail freight growth is being used by supporters of the project as a reason to plough ahead with HS2. Here I declare my interest in a potential rail freight terminus in Scotland. However, unlocking masses of capacity on our roads will surely be far more efficient than spending over £40 billion on HS2. We are preparing to spend a great deal of taxpayers’ money on what is fast becoming an outdated technology.

Again, it is perhaps understandable that autonomous vehicles, particularly the huge potential in autonomous trucks and lorries, were not considered in the original business case for HS2, but a KPMG study suggested that self-driving vehicles with the ability to platoon could provide a more flexible and less costly alternative than high-speed trains. This would be particularly true if they were in their own express lanes.

Given the opportunities to massively boost productivity, particularly at little capital cost, autonomous vehicles may be the game-changing technology we have been waiting for. There would be other economic benefits: fuel savings, fewer crashes and parking savings. Instead of driving in and out of work each day, commuters will be able to read reports or answer e-mails while they drive. They could drastically increase their productivity and their earnings. Thinking into the future, cars are parked for 98% of their lives. To exploit that, driverless car owners could put them to better use as taxis or delivery vehicles. It is no longer as fanciful as it sounds.

Autonomous vehicles should also have a profound impact on the lives of those living with disabilities. Imagine how liberating an autonomous vehicle would be to somebody who cannot, at present, have a driving licence. It would open up the world to them and allow them an independence that they may not currently have.

We must make it easy for businesses to invest in new technologies and equipment. That is best done by cutting taxes and removing regulations. We must also encourage real and genuine competition. Only then will the gains from automation benefit consumers. Furthermore, if we do those basics—cut taxes, remove regulations and encourage competition—more jobs will be created. The jobs created in this sector will be highly paid, highly skilled and in keeping with the Government’s own rhetoric about the tech sector. We cannot waste any more time; the UK must become the centre of excellence for autonomous vehicles.

6.20 pm

Lord Giddens (Lab): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, on having secured this debate, and I commiserate with him that so few noble Lords have felt driven to contribute—that is a sophisticated joke. They are probably all stuck in their autonomous cars somewhere on the other side of the city.

In future most cars will be electric and a substantial proportion will be autonomous, driven with minimal or zero driver involvement. We are not talking about the distant future here but about a period of no more than 20 years. Each of those elements has a much longer history than many people imagine. Henry Ford began experimenting with an electric car at the turn of the century. His wife, Clara, always drove an electric car; she refused to have a Model T. Several electric cars of different makes were produced; they had a range of about 80 miles, but the record for an electric car was about 280 miles, which is about the same as the current record for electric cars. It is interesting to note that one of the reasons why electric cars did not take off was that they were feminised, seen as appropriate for women, not for macho men—and most drivers at the time were men. The same thing applies to driverless cars. A driverless car was demonstrated in 1925 in New York. It was built by an organisation called Houdina Radio Control Co., and was controlled by radio waves from a second car travelling behind.

Most of those applications have also been developed in the context of war, especially autonomous vehicles of numerous kinds. In the 1930s the USSR had teletanks, which were controlled by vehicles following them from behind. Pilotless drones are everywhere today—every day 5,000 drones are sent up into the air by the United States—so the idea of an autonomous vehicle should not just be confined to cars on the road, as it is part of a more generic and extremely important trend.

Today we are witnessing a period of dramatic technological change. What is going on in the motor industry looks as though it will revolutionise that industry even more thoroughly than Henry Ford did in the early part of the 20th century. The UK must not just participate in that but try to be at the forefront. It will not be easy, but there are gigantic investment opportunities. Everybody has heard of the Google Self-Driving Car; I am not sure that it has driven 700,000 miles, but it has done a lot of miles anyway. It has only driven on motorways and has not yet been pioneered within the more testing environment of suburban driving. However, it is a mistake to concentrate only on that version, and I would like to make a few points about that.

First, many other manufacturers, including some that produce here, already have self-driving cars. Some say that they will have them in production within 10 years. These are not adapted cars, as in the case of Google; they are specially built cars and they are almost universally electric. Secondly, this is not an all-or-nothing process. Many cars already have developed forms of automation—for example, automatic braking, self-parking and keeping distance from the car in front —and far more sophisticated add-ons are in production. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as an autonomous vehicle; there are many gradations in all this.

Thirdly, it would be a massive mistake to concentrate only on autonomous vehicles. It is a mistake that the Government must not make. We are talking about an imminent revolution in traffic systems, with the digitalisation of transport, which is happening inside the car but also happening with much broader aspects of traffic behaviour, and which is extremely promising and interesting. I do not know whether the Minister knows of the MIT study on the future of the automobile; if not, it is worth checking out. MIT has been in the forefront of some of the research involved in the evolution of autonomous vehicles. Broadly speaking, the MIT study sees something like a total revolution occurring in traffic systems, in which most cars will not only be driverless but enmeshed in a complex system of traffic possibilities, making traffic massively easier than it is at the moment, as MIT says. MIT talks of a mobility internet as the future of the automobile, and give lots of pictures of these cars, which already exist in structure and form. It is crucial to see that the autonomous car is part of a much wider evolution of the emergence of transport systems, and this is going to be much more of a revolution than the autonomous car itself. The Minister will know that there are already functioning aspects of this; for example, there are streets in Texas that no longer have traffic lights. Certain cars do not need traffic lights—it is all governed by digital technology. This is the future. As I would stress all the way through, it is not the abstract future. It took the internet less than 20 years to dominate the world, so we will see far faster changes in these industries than we ever saw before. You cannot use pre-existing timescales as a measure.

As the noble Lord, Lord Borwick has said, there are plenty of problems, including that of liability for damage. Drivers might lose the experience of driving a car. What happens if the system fails? But the benefits are immense, as he also said. To add to his statistics, 40 million people were killed in traffic accidents in the 20th century, and more than double that amount globally were seriously injured. We are talking about a lethal instrument in the automobile. We should also recognise that 90% of accidents come from driver error, most of which can in principle be avoided, not just through the autonomous car but through the automation of traffic systems. The MIT study also envisages very different patterns of ownership. Cars would not just be privately owned; there would be all sorts of public-private ownership schemes.

I finish by posing some questions for the Minister to answer. First, could the Government clarify what resources they are providing for the development of autonomous cars and systems? I have seen estimates ranging from £75 million upwards, but I could not find much concrete data about what exists. If it is £75 million, my response would be, “You’ve got to be kidding”. I hope that it is a lot more. The state of California has already set aside about $5 billion. There is no way that the UK is going to be in the vanguard, if that is the case.

Secondly, do the Government recognise the scale of the likely revolution in transport? It cannot be driven primarily by private capital because of its enmeshment in transport systems. Small experiments like the one that is going on in Milton Keynes, which the Government are supporting, are worthwhile, but they are miles away from the scale on which we need to think.

Thirdly, are the Government investigating different types of ownership, as I just mentioned the MIT study suggests? How would these best be integrated with increasingly digitalised traffic management? Is, for example, the slightly notorious Uber management system actually the wave of the future because it makes possible a very different relationship to ownership of the vehicle?

Fourthly and finally, will the Government work to make sure that the coming revolution in transport will not be confined to the developed countries? We saw what happened with the mobile phone in Africa. African countries have been able to leapfrog technologies. We should make it possible for them to leapfrog technologies in transport systems too.

6.31 pm

Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con): My Lords, the car industry in Britain has been an important part of our national fabric and economy since the Industrial Revolution. We have excelled in the home market in designing and manufacturing vehicles, and with our exports. This has extended to motor sport with companies such as Cosworth and the growth of advanced engineering centres around Oxford and Birmingham.

I believe that the UK now has a most interesting and exciting new opportunity—that is, to become a global centre of excellence for the development of autonomous vehicles. Much credit should go to my noble friend Lord Borwick for initiating this debate and for the work that he has undertaken in the automotive sector. I will echo much of what he has said.

The idea of a driverless car seems rather an alarming prospect and remains for many of us in the realm of science fiction. However, we can take heart from the fact that the Docklands Light Railway and some rail interconnections at airports such as Gatwick and Heathrow are driverless. We do not turn a hair in travelling on these systems. Last week, we read of the £16 billion project to upgrade and improve the London Tube rolling stock, which is planned to graduate to be driverless by 2030. Of course, here we are talking about journeying on rails. The accelerator and the brakes work automatically; we arrive safely, smoothly and on time; and we, as discerning and risk-aware individuals, have grown to trust this mode of transport.

Trust is an important theme that I will return to. First, we should start with a vision. Fast forward to 2050—a commuter will leave his home in the morning and look at the gadget on his wrist, which may include his watch. He will speak to it to call his electric car to the door. He will hop in with his Kindle or equivalent and ask his car to drive him to work. He will have come to trust that his driverless car handles all matters relating to his journey: that is, all types of road, all types of junctions, all types of weather and all manner of cyclists and pedestrians. The car drops him safely at work and goes to park itself or drives home, or, still parking itself, it drops him at an out-of-town collection point, rather like a park and ride. He hops in a driverless electric bus that takes him into the centre of town, thereby reducing pollution and protecting the environment, sharing costs and easing congestion. He will trust motorway driving as sensors will keep his vehicle a certain distance from other vehicles in front. Tail-gating may become an irritant of the past, allowing for better capacity on motorways.

Two years ago, Google posted a YouTube video showing a gentleman called Steve Mahan in California being taken on a ride in his self-driving Toyota Prius. In the video, Mr Mahan states:

“Ninety-five percent of my vision is gone, I’m well past legally blind”.

The carefully programmed route takes him from his home to a drive-through restaurant, then to the dry-cleaning shop and finally back home, so I believe that journey was not just on motorways. In May this year, Google presented a new prototype of its driverless car. It had neither a steering wheel nor pedals. It is 100% automated. In some states in the US, legislation has already been passed to allow driverless cars. Numerous other major companies and research organisations have developed working prototype autonomous vehicles. The future is here.

We in Britain can be a country of global excellence in this field if we have a competitive edge on countries such as Germany, the USA, South Korea or Japan. It will require close collaboration and determination to succeed, from the academic institutions, innovators, government and business. At present, Germany is investing €200 million in advanced manufacturing and America is putting more than $1 billion dollars into rethinking manufacturing, all of which has a focus on smart technology, robotics and automated systems. The UK is investing £150 million over five years into progressing innovative solutions to manufacturing so that we are in the race to succeed globally in the so-called fourth Industrial Revolution.

We have made a positive start. The foundations for this were laid in 2010 with the industrial strategy launch and its focus on 11 key sectors and “eight great technologies”. The catapult initiatives are proving important and fruitful in translating new highly technically advanced ideas emanating from some of our great research institutions into marketable products or components. We are investing £1 billion over 10 years in the new Advanced Propulsion Centre to commercialise low-carbon technologies. The High Value Manufacturing Catapult has secured more than 1,500 projects.

The key to success for technological advance from these initiatives is effective automation from optimising the interaction between the use of robotics, smart technology and autonomous systems. It is highly significant that Innovate UK has recently awarded £1.6 million to the HyperCat consortium to promote the “internet of things”. The aim is to enable £100 billion- worth of value by 2020 in the UK by drawing together a range of the best companies and research institutions to focus on the interoperability of transportation, manufacturing, smart cities and energy. The internet of things allows for a broad range of devices, from heart monitors to kitchen appliances, to communicate with each other through wireless connections. This will have a profound beneficial effect on how we can lead our lives more efficiently.

It is from these collaborative initiatives that exciting developments in autonomous vehicles can be seen in Milton Keynes, the fastest-growing town in the United Kingdom. The strategy is interesting and distinct for its city-wide ambitions, the interconnectivity of transport systems and degree of integration. It is being progressed with the Transport Systems Catapult and the Automotive Council, together with universities. The project is designed to launch the driverless car in the form of futuristic-looking pods into Milton Keynes, three of which are being delivered in March 2015, and their number will build up to 20 or 30 in the short term. The testing will be undertaken gradually in increasingly ambitious conditions covering all types of road space and mixed pedestrian space. This intelligent mobility system deliberately tests out a move towards greater vehicle autonomy and its interaction with smart devices, other vehicles and drivers. It involves different climatic conditions and myriad scenarios that typically characterise a busy and complex transport network. A key aim, and the bigger picture for this project, is to develop a holistic approach to transport solutions—to reduce congestion, better manage parking spaces in city centres, reduce carbon emissions and enable greater efficiency in the economy by cutting down wasted time, whether by queuing or by reduced human productivity while travelling. The universities are playing a major part in this. For example, Professor Paul Newman of the robotics laboratory at Oxford University is at the leading edge of developing sensors and related technology for cars.

Sensors are linked to trust, because sensors in your mode of transport are everything, and will replace our brains—our senses—which we trust implicitly when we drive our cars. Trusting the technology is one of the biggest obstacles to the development of the truly autonomous vehicle, despite the stark fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said, that 93% of accidents are the result of human error. Trust in riding an autonomous vehicle is closely linked to the insurance market. To this end, we are lucky to have a Minister on the Front Bench with much knowledge and experience of this sector, my noble friend Lord Ashton of Hyde. I welcome him most warmly to the Dispatch Box for his inaugural session. The question of where liability lies is important, as my noble friend Lord Borwick mentioned. Existing legislation will need to be carefully scrutinised and changed accordingly. This will include a redefinition of monitoring and controlling a vehicle, and allow for careful scrutiny and analysis, including the use of in-car telematics and cameras in the event of an accident. This strays into the sensitive arguments of privacy, originating with tachometers.

The testing phase will need to take some time and should build to give anyone travelling in or near to an autonomous vehicle confidence and trust—that word again—in the system and its interoperability. Yet the country that develops a mode of non-rail autonomous transport that consistently demonstrates 100% trust for the human being translating him from A to B in all conditions will lead in this race. The potential for export cannot be underestimated. To engender this trust, autonomous vehicles may need to remain semi-autonomous for years—that is, that the car is autonomous but there remains an override for instant human intervention.

I conclude by asking the Minister some questions. What is the Government’s assessment of the challenge for the insurance industry in providing comprehensive cover for autonomous vehicles? Is he confident that there is optimum action in developing autonomous vehicles across all the relevant Whitehall departments? What can the Minister say on guaranteed future investment in the catapults and initiatives such as the internet of things for advanced transport systems? Is the £10 million allocated to Innovate UK sufficient for the planned trials in cities? How aware are we of the competition internationally to develop this technology? Are we up to speed or, to put another pun, are we in the slow lane?

The UK must be sure to retain its global reputation in the automotive sector. The translation over time from the petrol or diesel engine to electric and from cars with drivers to autonomous vehicles is both a threat, if we lose out competitively, and an opportunity, if we work collaboratively to be the global centre of excellence in this field. As my noble friend Lord Borwick has said, we must grasp the latter.

6.42 pm

The Earl of Erroll (CB): My Lords, I rise in the gap because I very much support what the debate is about. I want to say a few words, particularly in view of what I discovered that the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, was going to say. This is all part of the internet of things—the IoT, as it is often abbreviated to—in which I am very involved. In fact, I must declare an interest: I chair the HyperCat consortium, which the noble Viscount mentioned, which consists of many companies, several very large, several quite small, but all with a very similar vision of what the future might be like.

There are various things that need to be done across all the companies to get this to work. It is really only the Government who can bring that all together effectively, or support the people who will bring it together. Innovate UK, which used to be the Technology Strategy Board, is doing a very good job to spread this around the various areas with the money the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills allocated to it. However, it is not quite sufficient in certain cases. There is quite a fight going on over the coming Autumn Statement; HyperCat has asked for quite a significant amount of funding for this. Rumour has it that it could well get blocked when it gets to the Treasury and other places, because a lot of Ministers do not quite get the internet of things. They do not quite understand what it is about. Some of us are going to try to do something about that, but they need to take it on faith for the moment that this is something that will be the very near future.

HyperCat has managed to spend all its money—things have been so successful so far—which means that its funds cannot be released until April next year, which means it will not see any money until July. The big challenge is to keep the momentum going until then. We are talking about a system for making the internet of things interoperable with security and other things behind it, so that it is very easy to start making and building developments out of all the information that will be sitting out there. I am not going to go into huge detail, but I am reminded that it was a Briton, Tim Berners-Lee, who built the world wide web, which enabled everyone to use the internet—which was mainly a communications system—very efficiently and effectively. He created a huge amount of business out of it.

Britain now has the chance to produce the interoperability layer—the bit behind the internet of things that will enable it to be truly useful and enable people to build and develop applications that will really help humanity. Among these are the autonomous vehicle and the other things that will come around it to do with traffic management, such as people flows, predictions of crowd build-up, showing where there are problems and where the emergency services have to get to and so on. This will all need some method of recognising what the information is very quickly.

I hope that the Autumn Statement figure—I put in a plug for it again—will be recognised and that BIS will get the money, which it can then give over. We can see how much of a leader we are at the moment. A large American company is opening a new IoT laboratory in the UK because we are currently seen as the world leaders in this field. Let us not lose that position.

6.46 pm

Lord Young of Norwood Green (Lab): My Lords, I first congratulate the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ashton, on his appointment. I am looking forward to his first contribution from the Dispatch Box. I am sure he is, too—or to its completion, no doubt.

I must confess that, despite my eclectic range of knowledge of often arcane issues, autonomous vehicles is not a subject that attracted my attention, other than a vague awareness that Google was conducting some trials, so I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, on securing this debate. As usual, you can rely on the Library briefing to give you excellent background knowledge on the latest government policy and what developments are taking place both in the UK and globally. I am reliably informed that there is no party policy on my side on this issue but, given the potential size of the market, encouraging innovative R&D that leads to successful applications in software, hardware and, we hope, UK manufacturing is essential.

I welcome the government initiatives. There are people who have speculated that they are not enough, but no doubt the Minister can enlighten us further. However, I welcome the £10 million in collaborative R&D projects, the £10 million competition for cities to host a driverless car trial, and the review of the legislative and regulatory framework for testing driverless cars. On the regulatory framework, I echo the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, when he said that we want regulation that enables rather than stifles. That is a tricky balancing act when we are trying to encourage both trust and confidence in this area.

There was a review of regulation which closed on 19 September. Will the Minister tell us when we can expect to see the results of the evidence given to the review and the Government’s response? I realise that it is not long since the end of the review but I would welcome further information.

I also welcome the £75 million fund to speed up development in green technologies for engines and the £1.5 million announced for the first driverless cars project to be tested in a UK city centre. The two-person pods, which we have already heard about from the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, will run on designated pathways in Milton Keynes city centre and should be a more interesting visitor attraction than the concrete cows. Milton Keynes is also the base for the transport systems Catapult, which has already been mentioned, to drive the UK’s global leadership in intelligent mobility—the efficient and cost-effective movement of people and goods. Can the Minister confirm that this world-class innovation centre is now open? Can we really claim that it has sufficient resources to ensure that it is a truly world-class innovation centre? How does it compare with similar projects in other countries, whether the USA, Germany, the Netherlands or China? We have heard from other noble Lords that there is a lot going on in other countries, with what seem to be much larger sums of money than what is being invested in this country. I would welcome further information.

It was also interesting to learn about Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, a campaign to promote the benefits of a career in engineering to young people across the country, particularly young women. I hope the Minister will endeavour to ensure that schools’ careers advisers tell their pupils about career potential in the automotive industry. We know that there is an awful lot of demand for engineering skills, and it is vital that we meet that demand. Apparently, the industry is expecting to recruit 7,600 apprentices and 1,700 graduates over the next five years. I welcome that potential and I hope that it can be met, but part of the challenge of meeting it is encouraging our young people—both boys and girls—who are currently in school that engineering is a really exciting industry and one that is well worth their attention. I do not think that it gets that attention in schools at the moment.

Before I conclude, I should like to make a few comments on the contributions to the debate. This has proved to be a really interesting subject, which perhaps many would not have expected, and the contributions have been wide-ranging. I have found it exceedingly interesting—something that I was not expecting until it became my task to respond to the debate. There was reference to the wide-ranging impact of autonomous vehicles on traffic management systems, and the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, talked about things such as freight labour costs, platoon driving, reduced fuel consumption and the notion of car ownership changing. One of the last points that he made—this interested me the most—concerned the potential benefits for disabled people. I must admit that that had not automatically come to my mind but there is obviously great potential there.

If I have a bit of scepticism, it is in relation to the idea that we are going to totally abolish drivers. We are so wedded to our cars. Can we really imagine all people giving up driving? Somehow, I doubt it. However, that is not to say that autonomous vehicles and the traffic management systems that will arise from them will not have a vital role to play.

As I expected, my noble friend Lord Giddens had done an enormous amount of research. I learnt more about the history of electric cars than I could ever have hoped to know. I do not have time to cover every point in his wide-ranging contribution but he is right when he tells us that there are gradations of adapted vehicles. We are already beginning to see technology influencing that. He talked about a transport revolution and traffic management in a digital traffic system. I think that he was right to question the level of investment and resources available. If the predictions being made in the House today are right—and I think that broadly speaking they are—about the impact of this technology on the potential for jobs to be created, we have to ask whether there has been as much investment as is needed, given the scale of the task.

I was also fascinated by the contribution of the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie. He talked about our developing a global centre of excellence. I echo that and, again, ask whether we have the ability to do this. We are one country among many trying to achieve this, and I would welcome the Minister’s comments. I was fascinated by the noble Viscount’s 2050 vision. Will it all take place? I think that he is right and that some of it will. He talked about the importance of sensors and he is right about that. I certainly like the idea of the roads being safer for cyclists. As somebody who entrusts my life on the roads to two wheels every day, I would welcome anything that can improve safety. If we can get sensors to recognise cyclists of all shapes and sizes, that will be no mean thing.

The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, introduced another dimension to this debate when he talked about this being part of the internet of things. He is absolutely right about that. He also talked about the importance of interoperability.

My noble friend Lord Giddens is right about the speed of change. If we look at internet development and the way that technology is developing there is one thing that we know—it is a lot faster than we ever thought in the past. Ideas are now being exchanged globally, so we have to recognise that that is the challenge.

We know that autonomous vehicles and holistic traffic systems have a vital contribution to make towards both to road safety and the environment. We are on the cusp of a new era in transport with zero emission engines, autonomous vehicles and aerial vehicles in all shapes and sizes. We will probably never be alone without a drone looking at us in one way or another. The challenge, surely, is to ensure that we have the skills and the investment resources to achieve a significant share of this rapidly developing industry, and ensure that society as a whole will benefit from it. I look forward to the Minister’s contribution.

6.55 pm

Lord Ashton of Hyde (Con): My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend, Lord Borwick, for initiating this important debate and for his kind welcome. I also thank the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, and the noble Lord, Lord Young, for their kind remarks. This technology will cause powerful changes in the years to come, and we will no doubt return to this subject in the future.

Sustainable transport of people and goods is key to economic growth. I agree that the UK cannot afford to sit back and watch. Autonomous vehicles will play a central role in future mobility. We must grasp the opportunities they present and be at the forefront of their development. The UK is the place to develop exciting and cutting-edge technologies such as autonomous vehicles. Formula 1 is an exemplary story of how the UK leads on state-of-the-art technology. Eight out of the 11 Formula 1 teams are based in the UK and 75% of global motor-sport R&D takes place here. The UK has a world-class science base and testing facilities, some of the most productive automotive plants in the world and a highly skilled and flexible workforce. There is much to attract companies to invest here. We have competitive labour costs, an adaptable workforce and our already competitive rate of corporation tax will be the lowest in the G20 by 2015.

Through our automotive and industrial strategy and the Automotive Council UK we have built a strong and lasting partnership between government and the automotive industry in the UK. Together, we are investing in the automotive industry of the future, ensuring that it is competitive and delivering the right conditions for growth and innovation in the sector. Every 20 seconds, a vehicle rolls off a UK production line. The UK automotive industry is on track for record production, exceeding 2 million vehicles in the next few years, and a total of £1.7 billion was invested in R&D by automotive companies in 2012 alone. Clearly, vehicle manufacturers value what the UK has to offer.

The Government’s support for autonomous vehicles was mentioned by many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Giddens and Lord Young. We are already seeing UK automotive manufacturers making great strides in autonomous technology. My noble friend Lord Borwick highlighted the progress of Nissan and Ricardo. Nissan had a successful collaboration with the University of Oxford on the autonomous robot car, and Ricardo, a leading UK automotive design consultancy, has played a pivotal role in the European Commission’s safe road trains for the environment project, which has been developing vehicle platooning technology, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Borwick. The outcomes were positive. As a result of this, the Department for Transport concluded a feasibility study earlier this year on turning this research into a reality on British roads and I understand that DfT is considering a further programme of new research for heavy goods vehicle platooning.

Secondly, in November 2013, the Government announced £1.5 million of investment in the pathfinder project in Milton Keynes to test driverless vehicles in a pedestrianised area for the first time. The pathfinder will see driverless pods operating on pathways shared with pedestrians within the next three years. As my noble friend Lord Younger pointed out in his question, it is imperative that Whitehall works together to support this objective.

In July, the Department for Transport and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, working together, launched a £10 million co-funded competition for collaborative R&D projects to research how driverless cars can be integrated into everyday life in the UK—that addresses the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, and the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. This goes beyond simply pure technology and the automation of individual vehicles. It must be integrated into normal life and will lead to big changes in the years to come. I know that my colleagues in the Treasury are taking a keen interest in this programme—that also goes towards the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll. It is not only an exciting prospect, but one that provides a potentially significant opportunity for UK businesses, and it is right that we join up those interests across government.

I understand the concerns of my noble friend Lord Younger and the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, about whether there is enough investment. We are in the early stages of developing this transformational technology. The initial Government support will enable the sector to reach a tipping point at which private investment and the market take over. I am not sure that I can give a long list of exactly how much investment is taking place, but perhaps I may write to the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, with the exact figures as far as possible. However, I can give some examples: £150 million is to be invested in research into training robotics autonomy; £500 million in the Advanced Propulsion Centre, which is to be matched by industry, so that will be £1 billion-worth over 10 years; £60 million into smart and connected transport; the £1.5 million I mentioned into driverless pods in Milton Keynes; and £10 million into driverless cars. These figures show that quite a substantial amount of investment is being made. Whether it is enough—it is probably never enough, if we are truthful—it is the case that we are investing significant amounts. Above all, private industry is investing alongside us.

The competition I mentioned earlier will identify up to three towns or cities to host trials of driverless cars and other road vehicles in a real-world environment. The competition is now closed and we expect the winners to be announced next month. These projects may see driverless cars on UK roads from as early as January 2015. That will put the UK at the forefront of this transformational technology and open up new opportunities for our economy and society.

In parallel with the competition, the Department for Transport is currently undertaking a review of the relevant regulation and legislation to ensure that there is a clear and appropriate regime for the testing of driverless cars in the UK. I appreciate the concerns of my noble friend Lord Borwick about increased regulation. It is clear that what we need is appropriate regulation rather than more regulation or, indeed, less regulation. The Government have a clear deregulatory ambition, but in this case we must undertake the review and then decide how to proceed. The review is well under way and an open consultation was held during the summer months. In answer to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Young, the findings will be reported by the end of this year, and those findings will include the insurance and liability issues identified by noble Lords: who is liable in the event of an accident and what does it mean to be “driving” such a car or ceding control of a vehicle?

As we have heard, automated driving offers a significant opportunity for our society. It paves the way to saving lives—potentially many lives—to helping the environment, increasing efficiency and reducing human effort through enhanced mobility, connectivity, comfort and convenience. My noble friend Lord Borwick helpfully looked across at the different types of vehicles and cast a vision of fully automated trucks on the motorway network. As a vision, I fully share in it, but the challenge will be turning that vision into a reality. The Government are taking on that challenge, and I mentioned the truck platooning trials earlier.

My noble friend also suggested a link between HS2 and autonomous vehicles. I do not share his optimistic view on this. Independent studies have looked at the alternatives to HS2, including building new motorways or more air travel, and they show less than half the benefit of HS2. Of course, these studies did not predict the use of autonomous vehicles in the way that the noble Lord mentioned, because the technology is some way off and untested so far. The Government’s approach to HS2 is therefore the right one in the light of available knowledge.

There has been much comparison with the Google self-driving car, and I thank my noble friend Lord Younger for asking how the UK compares globally, as did other noble Lords. Google is testing on American roads, but subject to certain restrictive conditions around liability. These rules are set by state legislatures rather than at a federal level and they differ between states. We understand that the liability bonds required in some states are at a level that small companies cannot afford, which stifles innovation.

We have the chance here in the UK to establish a much more open and competitive national environment for such technologies. We can become the global hub for the R&D and integration of driverless cars into society. The UK has not ratified the 1968 Vienna convention on road traffic safety, so we can start trials on real roads now, taking technology from the test track to the urban laboratory. In fact, the Oxford Robotics car mentioned earlier is already out there.

While other jurisdictions will be grappling with their own restrictive national rules over the next three years, companies can come to the UK and get on with the job of trialling their technologies in real-world situations. We, too, will learn from these trials to enable us to develop and implement the appropriate regulatory framework for autonomous vehicles ahead of the competition.

Driverless vehicles are just one element of the UK’s automotive technological journey. The Automotive Council’s technology group is identifying opportunities for intelligent mobility more widely—this was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens—looking at how we integrate into society and take advantage of such technologies and how they can be connected to an intelligent transport infrastructure.

As part of the automotive industrial strategy, government and industry will invest around £1 billion over 10 years in the Advanced Propulsion Centre to research, develop and commercialise the next generation of low-carbon technologies. Over time, it will be important that cars of the future are not only intelligent but green as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Young, asked what the Government are doing to support skills in the automotive industry. This is one of the focuses of the industrial strategy. For example, through the employer ownership pilot, we are providing significant matching funding to support the automotive industry to take ownership of its skills agenda. On 30 April, the Government announced a £20 million employer ownership fund for automotive supply chain companies to support the skills essential for the continued growth of the automotive sector. Other opportunities through the employer ownership fund include £10 million funding for firms seeking to establish training programmes to boost the number of women in the profession. In the autumn, a further £10 million will be available to help smaller firms tackle their engineering skills challenges.

The Transport Systems Catapult forecasts that the global market for driverless vehicles will have grown to £900 billion by 2025. If government and the private sector take decisive action now, we will be the ones designing and making these systems for the rest of the world. The Government are aware of the opportunities and doing their bit to help this happen.

I am getting to the end of my time, so I will have to ask noble Lords whether I can write to them to answer the remaining questions—in particular, I have some from the noble Lords, Lord Giddens and Lord Young. The Government are aware of these opportunities and are doing what they can to make them a reality.

House adjourned at 7.09 pm.

Information obtained from the parliamentary website.

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