Motion to Take Note
My Lords, any committee report which attempts to forecast the pace of technological change will inevitably look rather stupid in years to come. In the fast moving field of artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics, the one statement that can be made with certainty is that the impact of these disciplines on society will be profound, and no more so than in the field of connected and autonomous vehicles—which I shall refer to as CAV.
Our report hedges its bets with a question mark in the title. We considered other titles. The noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, suggested that for a report which largely considers the prospect of driverless cars, the title should be “Goodbye, Mr Toad”. I was too cowardly to accept this suggestion.
The coalition Government identified robotics and autonomous systems as one of the “eight great technologies” to be supported by their industrial strategy, and the recent Industrial Strategy White Paper has followed up with a sector deal for the artificial intelligence sector to boost the UK’s global position as a leader in developing artificial intelligence technologies.
The possible, and existing, applications of connected and autonomous systems include: aerial, where automatic pilots have long been with us; marine, where early economic benefits can be identified; metro and rail; space; military; ambulance services; precision agriculture, where trials are already in place; working in hazardous environments; off-road vehicles, where the application has been in use for some years in the mining industry, particularly in Australia; and on-road vehicles. All are supported by robotics and information technology.
The committee decided to launch this inquiry into CAV in September 2016 in response to concern that, in an area in which technology was developing at a rapid pace, our Government needed to make policy decisions and investment decisions to enable the UK to receive the maximum possible economic benefit as well as to anticipate some of the transformational impacts, for better or worse, on society. This report is our contribution to encourage not just the Government but other stakeholders to think through the implications of these potential changes. I thank our specialist adviser Professor Eric Sampson, our clerk Anna Murphy and our policy analyst Daniel Rathbone for their most helpful contributions to this report.
I have listed the range of sectors in which CAV have potential or existing applications, yet the vast preponderance of evidence we received, and the main media interest, was in the development of road vehicles, from level 1, where a modest task is performed, such as assisted parking but with the driver performing the driving task, through to level 5, where no driver is required and every driving task in all situations is delivered by full automation—what we familiarly know as driverless cars. The intermediate stages are listed in figure 1 at page 15 of our report: level 2 is partial automation; level 3 is conditional automation; and level 4 is high automation.
Our first recommendation was to suggest that the Government must broaden their focus so that their work on connected and autonomous vehicles cuts across all sectors and does not focus so heavily on road vehicles. I therefore welcome the report of Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Dr Jérôme Pesenti, commissioned at the time of the publication of our report in March 2017, called Growing the Artificial Intelligence Industry in the UK. This report was published in October and focused on job creation, economic growth and whether a coherent AI industrial sector might emerge in the United Kingdom.
Our second recommendation refers to the need for a robotics and autonomous systems leadership council to provide clear co-ordination of strategy or information sharing across the different sectors. Dame Wendy Hall and Dr Pesenti’s report also calls for an AI council to be set up to co-ordinate the necessary initiatives, with the Government providing AI challenge funds. I welcome the Government’s response to our second recommendation. I accept that a sector deal is a positive way forward to ensure that strategic leadership is provided across the full breadth of the robotics and autonomous systems sector and that this will bring industry together with the research base in United Kingdom universities. We await to hear more specific information from the Government on the make-up and role of the industry-led AI council and the office for AI, both of which were proposed in the Industrial Strategy White Paper. Only government can provide the critical mass of investment in fundamental scientific research in robotics and information technology, so the announcement in the Industrial Strategy White Paper of increased government funding for science and innovation is to be welcomed.
On pages 24 and 25, we refer to the skills shortage in the CAV sector and more specifically for robotics and autonomous systems. The Industrial Strategy White Paper recognises the need to take action to close the engineering and digital skills gap and thereby ensure that the UK can benefit from the emerging CAV technologies. The government response to recommendation 6 of our report lists a number of initiatives to address the skills challenge. This is a subject which has been frequently raised in this Chamber, and I have no doubt that the Science and Technology Committee will want to return to this subject as the various initiatives run their course.
In chapter 3, we review whether the possible potential social and economic benefits stand up to rigorous analysis. Many claims for the benefits of autonomous vehicles are made, from increasing mobility for those less able to use traditional vehicles, to improved road safety and reduced costs for freight movement, as well as the economic benefits of improved productivity and increased trade. All these claims need to be treated with caution. We agreed with the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation that,
“There is relatively little data available to substantiate the listed potential benefits and there [may be] unintended consequences that could provide dis-benefits”.
We recommend that the Government commission a detailed cost-benefit analysis to provide a realistic indication of the economic benefits CAV could provide in all sectors, differentiating clearly between the different applications of CAV, actual monetary gains from deployment, estimated job creation and social benefits. Our evidence indicated that platooning of trucks could be an early example of CAV deployment on our roads, and the Government should carry out an early evaluation of the potential applications of connected and autonomous larger vehicles used for freight and logistics.
As human error is the cause of the majority of road accidents, it is reasonable to assume that CAV have the potential to lower the number of road fatalities, but the eradication or near eradication of human error will only be realised with full automation at level 5. In the preceding years before that stage is reached, we face the prospect of automated and partially or not at all automated vehicles sharing our roads. We need a better understanding of how CAV will affect the behaviour of drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and other road users. Level 3 autonomy may require a CAV to hand back control to the driver when it is unable to deal with a certain situation. We received evidence, which I entirely accept, that handing back in this way to a potentially unprepared driver could be very dangerous. Perhaps it would be wiser to eliminate level 3 altogether: the risks might be too great to tolerate.
We took evidence on the risks that CAV could be susceptible to hacking and used for malicious, criminal or terrorist purposes. This is a very real threat, which calls for collaboration to establish international standards of cybersecurity, and we urge the Government to take a lead on this. International standards are needed to address the ethical issues, such as ensuring that the data produced by CAV comply with the relevant privacy and data protection legislation. The announcement in the White Paper of funding for a new centre for data ethics and innovation is welcome.
I will now touch on infrastructure requirements. Connected vehicles will require improved digital connectivity, removing not-spots on British roads. Consideration needs to be given now by Highways England and local transport authorities to how we can ensure that new infrastructure can be future-proofed so that it does not need expensive retrofitting.
The funding of research and development for fully automated vehicles should be left to car manufacturers and new entrants. They will undertake this if their business case can justify it. The Government’s role is to support the basic science, to attract inward investment in this country by providing the best testing facilities, to ensure that our infrastructure is fit for purpose as the technology develops and to contribute to establishing international standards of regulation.
CAV technology is not yet sufficiently developed to enable a precise description of just what will be required. This is a fast-moving area of technology, and the Government have much to do, alongside industry and other partners, to position the United Kingdom so that it can take full advantage of the opportunities that CAV offers. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, because it gives me an opportunity to thank him for his leadership of the committee, which he did with his customary firmness, urbanity and unfailing courtesy. He had to deal with some fairly unruly committee members at times, which he did with great dexterity.
As the noble Earl has already pointed out, the public interest in autonomous vehicles focuses largely on road vehicles and surface transport. This is understandable, but in many ways this is probably not the main area of change in the immediate future: seaways and the air tend to be less congested and more firmly under external traffic management control. I suspect that in both those areas we will see seriously autonomous vehicles in the not too distant future: this looks like an opportunity for air freight and sea freight in particular.
As the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, pointed out, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders produced the rather useful table, which we reproduce in our report, with the levels 1 to 5, and level 0 being zero automation. In fact, as far as surface vehicles and motor vehicles are concerned, we have been living with what I would describe as creeping automation for quite a long time. With the first vehicle that I ever owned, as a student, one had to adjust by hand not only the fuel mixture but the timing, and of course double declutching was standard. These are things which have moved into our vehicles and made them easier to drive—almost imperceptibly—and we simply take them for granted.
Anyone who has had the opportunity to drive one of the relatively modern vehicles that are around today will find themselves with all sorts of driver-assisting technologies which we did not dream of 10 years ago. We have already mentioned automatic parking; there is also automatic switching on of your lights when the external light drops to a particular level and automatic switching on of the windscreen wipers—a whole range of activities which make driving easier. Particularly valuable, I think, is the so-called lane assist, where sensors sense the track and alert the driver if he drives out of a marked lane on the road. These things are coming. Levels 1, 2 and 3 of the series that the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, described represent increasing levels of automation, using these and probably other devices and assists that we have not yet thought of or certainly are not aware of, with less and less driver involvement.
It is worth pointing out that modern passenger aircraft are probably somewhere between levels 2 and 3. It is well known that passenger aircraft travel on autopilot for long distances. Indeed, it is perfectly possible for modern aircraft to land automatically; take-off has a few more complications. But we are very much in those areas.
The existence of these levels perhaps suggests that the differences between them are more or less equidistant, of similar length, and we just progress from one to the other. But in fact when one moves from level 3 to level 4 there is a big jump in the technology requirement, and certainly an even bigger one when one moves to level 5. Level 4 allows a vehicle to travel under a certain degree of direction. Fundamentally, this means that its application on the surface will be in the automated control of shuttle vehicles or public transport vehicles travelling along well-defined routes—trams and light rail are the obvious easy applications. It would be perfectly possible for there to be movement on marked highways where there were clear lines or electronic markers of other kinds, but these would be limited and the vehicles would not be able to move outside them.
Level 5—default full autonomy—is another kettle of fish. There you are talking about the vehicle taking full responsibility for everything—in so far as a vehicle can be responsible for anything, and that raises some interesting legal and insurance questions. Here I think we have prodigious challenges of data processing and data management. I was discussing this recently with a friend who works in artificial intelligence and he said that, for full autonomy in one of these vehicles, you have to have the ability to process images and interpret those images in real time, like a human being can do, which means exceedingly quickly. He said that if we look at the computational capabilities that are available today, you would need about as much power to drive a computer that can do that as you would need to propel the vehicle. That is not to say that this is not going to happen, but it emphasises that it will not happen tomorrow.
My Lords, I am grateful to the committee for a very fine report, but I will devote my speech to an opportunity that I think the Government are missing: the creation of dedicated highways for autonomous vehicles.
We have in this country a great deal of slow rail. I live in the Southern region, where almost the entire network can be described as slow rail, with average speeds of around 50 mph from one end of the journey to the other. In such a network, we have a track which could easily be converted to a highway for autonomous vehicles and we have a power supply in the third rail, which, again, could easily be converted to a power supply for autonomous vehicles. If we have vehicles—probably just standard electric cars—travelling at 60 mph on a dedicated highway, and 10 mph when they are off that, when they are taking you home from the station, we have the technology to handle that. We do not have to worry about fast image processing because radar is good enough if you are going at 10 mph. It is what we all use for reversing. It picks up the problem soon enough for an automatic system to react if you are going slowly enough. On a dedicated highway, where there is no other traffic, and given the stability of modern cars at 60 mph, we have the technology to make that happen.
My journey from Eastbourne is slow. It has an average of 40 mph, even on the faster services. It is irregular and unreliable. It requires a vast subsidy. It has an enormous maintenance backlog. We do not have a good road service, either. The A27 is single lane for large parts of its length around us, and there are no funds available to change that. Changing the Coastway—the line that runs from Brighton to Ashford—to a dedicated highway for autonomous vehicles would make an enormous difference to all our lives in that part of the world. Noble Lords might think that Eastbourne is prosperous. It is not: it has one of the lowest rates of children with free school meals proceeding to university of any town in the country. Transport is a very big reason why it is like that. It is very cut off and isolated. But a dedicated highway would make a great deal of difference.
As a dedicated highway, the Coastway suddenly puts you in easy touch with Brighton and Ashford. Journey times on a dedicated highway are much shorter. You set off when you want. You do not have to get to the station 20 minutes early. It is a much more individual and, in effect, faster service. It is fail soft because it is easy for little vehicles to get round a problem—you do not have to close down the whole network for two hours because there is some problem at a point. It delivers you door to door. It would make an enormous difference to tourism and business generally, and it would create a lot of business in the north because that is where the vehicles would be made. To my mind, this is a big opportunity, just within the UK, to take a world lead in an area that we are supposed to be taking seriously.
It is the ideal solution for the Oxford-Cambridge route. Why, if you are travelling from Oxford to Cambridge, do you want to go by railway? You want to go from door to door. How do you do that? You do that with a dedicated autonomous vehicle highway. Then things work much better. In a city such as Cambridge, where the centre is occupied largely by old buildings and the new industrial estates are spread around it, you want something which easily gets you from the railway station out to where you want to go. If you are travelling in your own autonomous vehicle, you get there straightaway.
I do not understand why the Government are not investigating this, but I have talked to the department and indeed they are not investigating it. I very much hope that my noble friend will confirm that this is something they will at least take a look at and that they will do a relatively cheap pilot study on what it would take, what it would cost and where the technology is. I very much hope that that might involve a meeting with me at some stage.
Returning to the main subject, we have a Bill heading in our direction on this. My main interest in that Bill will be standards. I really do not want us to get into a situation where the autonomous vehicle business can be captured by an Uber or an Apple, a service provider or a hardware provider, by dominating standards. We have to take control of our own standards and make them open to make it easy for all sorts of people to compete in what will, at some stage I think, become the dominant mode of transport.
My Lords, I was one of the unruly members of the committee, and I too add my commendations to the excellent chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who kept us all in order. I should declare an interest in that I am chancellor of Cranfield University, which is involved in providing a research road test environment for the testing and validation of new autonomous vehicles, so I am a bit conflicted in my views on the way in which the Government are progressing this issue. It seems to be a statement of faith rather than progression on the basis of an evidence base. We experienced that a bit in the committee. It was delightful to see a string of providers of evidence and witnesses who were all absolutely mustard-keen on this technology and what it could potentially deliver, although sometimes when we poked them a bit with a sharp stick, they had to admit that the benefits were somewhat theoretical rather than as yet evidenced.
It was quite sobering for me when we had the chap from the RAC Foundation as a witness—being an environmentalist, I have never been a huge fan of the RAC Foundation because we were on different pages. The RAC Foundation was always pushing motor transport at a time when the environmental movement was trying to move people into public transport, reduce journeys et cetera. Being faced with the RAC man was not something that I felt was going to illuminate my life, but the reality was that he was a breath of fresh air. He was fairly sceptical and very realistic about the pace at which fully autonomous vehicles are likely to come forward in any realistic fashion, other than on a test-bed basis, and he was also fairly realistic and sceptical about the range of applications which would be likely to bring benefit. So good on you, man from the RAC Foundation.
One of the much-vaunted benefits of autonomous vehicles which the Government are still committed to and which is heralded in the Industrial Strategy White Paper is the benefits for older people. It states:
“One of the main groups benefiting from this revolution is older people who may no longer be able to drive or have other difficulties with mobility”.
I am slightly anxious about that because I have visions of these small autonomous pods that you dial up scooting up to the house of an older person who is signally unable to get downstairs, carry a suitcase, deal with a walking stick and get themselves into an autonomous pod, having the same problem at the other end, and being hugely vulnerable if they are in a pod which fails to move—and we had a little difficulty when we tried the test car in Greenwich which got stuck. I am not convinced that autonomous vehicles are going to be that much better for older people than my nice local taxi service which I phone up and whose driver carries my bag out for me, puts it in the boot and makes sure that I get home and that I have the door open and the lights on before he leaves me at the end of the day.
However, the Government are committed to moving forward on this issue; it is now a grand challenge in the Industrial Strategy and there is quite a lot of pressure and reliance on cutting a sector deal. I am not sure what the really quite clear statement:
“The government wants to see fully self-driving cars … on UK roads by 2021”,
means. Does it mean that we are all going to be in fully self-driving cars by 2021, which I think is probably unlikely, or will there be the odd fully self-driving car on the roads by 2021? Are we talking about there being a number of vehicles that are smart enough to be called autonomous or are we talking about a need to develop roads that are truly smart?
I welcome some of the priorities that the Government have outlined in the Industrial Strategy White Paper and the new grand challenge in this area. The flexible regulatory framework is a really brave move, but will be a very interesting one in terms of Britain becoming a hot spot for research and development on the use of autonomous vehicles in practice. That is good. I very much welcome the commitment to a future urban mobility strategy because one of the points that we raised in the committee’s report is that we must not forget that people travel on small roads, not just trunk roads, and local transport authorities are way behind the pace compared with the Government’s ambition.
I also heartily welcome the fact that if you are on a road you are going to have 5G. It would be quite nice to have 4G in my little rural village, or even 3G on occasion.
I would like the Minister to ponder on a few things before I finish. One is the very valid point that was made about the risks associated with tier 3 and tier 4 before we get to the fully autonomous tier 5 and the risks associated with autonomous and non-autonomous vehicles being mixed on the road. I think a considerable amount of testing needs to be applied to that before we move forward. Mostly, I would like the Government to come out with a joined-up transport strategy. It was interesting that in their response the Government listed seven policy areas that they had strategies or plans for, and followed that up by saying that those documents were,
“not a comprehensive survey of everything the Department for Transport does”,
but went on to say that they did not have a joined-up transport strategy. We need a joined-up transport strategy that puts autonomous vehicles in the context of that strategy, looks at the reality of transport as a service rather than at vehicles on the roads, other modes of transport, the future role of public transport, congestion and pollution. Will the Minister ponder on just how many of the responses to our report indicated that further research would be needed? It seems to me that the Government are very committed to the idea that Britain will be a technology leader and a leader of research in this area. That is an admirable thing to push forward with, but we need also to bear in mind that we have not yet got clarity on where that will benefit people in the UK in a practical and applicable way. It would be unwise to be a global leader in competitiveness in the technology but still guddling around in the weeds with insufficient research and a lack of a strategy for exactly how this would work in the UK.
My Lords, this is the second time this week that I have taken part in a debate which has concentrated on a historical document, in that this committee report, like the one we debated on Monday, is nine months old—which is ironic in a field such as this where technology is moving so fast. At least in this case we have a government response, and I want to concentrate this evening on that response, because it reveals a slow-moving, bewildered Government, with no clear focus, no clear idea of where they want to go and unwilling to take a real leadership position. Leadership is about a lot more than repeatedly stating that we are world leaders. As the noble Baroness has just pointed out, this is a very competitive field. We are not world leaders in this—not with security—and after Brexit we are much less likely to be, because we will not have those strong European links.
I am unashamedly excited about autonomous vehicles and their huge potential, but so much still has to be decided on the direction in the future. This week, the Secretary of State, Chris Grayling, unveiled his vision of Uber-style CAVs replacing buses—presumably all of us in our individual pods, which we summon up when we need them. I take issue with that image. I agree that in rural areas the concept could be really useful, especially for older or disabled people who are unable to drive, but in urban areas the big issue is congestion. Urbanisation is expected to increase average city density by 30% over the next 15 years. I accept that CAVs will drive much more closely together and will move off much more smartly at traffic lights—there possibly will not even still be traffic lights—but, even so, the Grayling free-market vision could well turn out to be a chaotic, congested nightmare. It is much more likely that we will continue to have buses, but, in more responsive mode. But neither this response nor the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill tackles the overall vision.
Another issue I want to emphasise is exactly how automation will develop, which has already been tackled by other speakers. It seems to me there are two constraints: consumer acceptance and the readiness of our infrastructure. I can illustrate the issue of consumer acceptance by saying that I have travelled in an autonomous vehicle, and it takes a bit of a leap of faith. Many new cars are currently at level 3, and we will probably evolve towards level 4 and then level 5 step by step, rather than by taking a big leap forward. Indeed, the manufacturers I have talked to have spoken about this. When we get to level 5, there will be great social opportunities, especially in rural areas, but the Bill in the other place at the moment really just deals with the insurance side of things. It does not have the vision. We need social preparation, which we did not have for electric vehicles, for example—people look amazed as a silent vehicle moves towards them. I suggest that a great deal more work is needed, as referred to in the committee’s report, on social preparation for the changes that will take place.
Another huge issue that will come from this is the impact on jobs. There will be job losses, mainly among drivers—from taxis to HGVs, from tractors to ships, from pilots to tank drivers. Your Lordships might think that not having to do some of those jobs would be a huge advantage—no one would voluntarily be a military tank driver, where lives are at risk—but there are of course social changes that would come with that. We also need—the Government need—to prepare for the jobs of the future, and I want to draw out an ancillary issue. The Government’s response refers to apprenticeships, but when I asked the Government in November how they were preparing for this and,
“whether they intend to introduce a licensing and accreditation scheme for technicians working on electric and automated vehicles”,
the Answer came back that,
“it is too early to develop a training, licensing, and accreditation scheme for automated vehicles”.
Given that we are already at level 3 in many places, that is a very complacent reply, and the Government need more vision.
Finally, there is the issue of infrastructure and the road network. The government response does not tackle the hard facts of our outdated, complex and congested infrastructure. I listened carefully this morning to the “Today” programme as the Minister outlined, in very careful wording, his vision that we should all have the right to request access to broadband by 2020. Now, that is very carefully put. I live in Wales, and there are vast swathes of the country with no mobile phone signal and no wi-fi. We have so far to go if the Government’s vision is to be implemented, and time is very short.
The Government have an important role as facilitators of research, for example, as initiators of the structure for skills and as facilitators of the necessary infrastructure and legislative framework. They also have an important role as guardians of our safety and security. The data issues associated with these vehicles are very serious and need to be considered; for example, the interface between the need for public data, to keep us safe, and the need for privacy of data for those aspects of our lives that we have a right to keep private. But that data is valuable, and the Government have a lot of thinking to do on this.
My Lords, I too sat on the committee during this investigation and thank the noble Earl for his very able chairmanship. Most of us on the committee thought there would be fully automated cars on the UK’s roads by 2030, but we all thought that driverless mobility would come more easily and sooner to fields of movement other than on our roads. The difficulty will be to get investors and Governments to invest in these other fields, because the rewards for AV cars are of course enormous and are already attracting billions in terms of private research funding. Details on progress, due to reasons of obvious brand competition, were sadly not available to our committee, which probably undermined the accuracy of our report.
One of those other fields is agriculture, where the advantages are many. In western agriculture, we currently look to use bigger tractors where possible, because one man—the most expensive component—can do a lot of work in the shortest period of time in very large fields. But myriad small connected and automated tractors—perhaps I can call them CATs—about the size of a garden tractor could change all that. For a start, they can work day or night. Being small, the soil damage will be minimal. There is no advantage to ripping out hedges and forming big fields for big tractors. Being small and, I hope, mass-produced, they should not be too expensive in the end, and maybe even smallholders in the developing world will be able to afford them. I envisage a day when each field will have its own CAT in charge of its crop. It will assess the soil, cultivate the field and ask its manager for the right seed, and it will then sow and manage the crop. It is already possible for a CAT to recognise pests and diseases in crops and then spray not the whole field but the individual plants affected. The savings in chemicals, from the point of view of the environment, and in the cost of food will be considerable. Bear in mind that satnavs on modern tractors are already accurate to within an inch and they already talk to their manufacturers’ computers, which can let the farmer know when something is going wrong. Many problems today in driving big tractors stem from operator error in handling the complicated technology, so driverless tractors could be an advantage.
Another non-road field for AVs is the high seas, as has been mentioned. To my mind, the advantage here is that the changeover can be gradual; you can have a huge ship running on only a skeleton crew to take over if things go wrong. In a car, it would be impossible for a passenger to take over in that split second when things have gone wrong, but a boat normally has a much slower timescale when it comes to approaching disasters. Rolls-Royce told us that a greater use of autonomous marine vessels could save the global marine industry up to £80 billion per annum from reductions in capital costs, manning costs and fuel costs.
Turning back to automated cars, the advantages, particularly when combined with electric power, are enormous. Elon Musk of Tesla fame believes that he can develop a self-driving capability that is 10 times safer than manual cars via, in his words, “massive fleet learning”. He also believes that just by tapping a button you can add your car to, say, the Uber 2 shared fleet and have it earn income for you when you are at work or on vacation. We use our cars for less than 10% of the time, and this extra money earned could pay for the cost of the car and more, making AV cars affordable to anyone—though, if you are like me, you probably ought to remove the golf clubs from the boot.
Certain changes will be needed. We will have to change the law to stop jaywalkers. As in the US and elsewhere, we will be able to walk across the road only at certain points. In trials in Italy, people tended to walk out in front of AVs just to test them. Still, I think that if the law is changed and all AVs have cameras and black boxes, people will soon learn. Everything around an AV will be being recorded; you might even think twice about picking your nose. Other necessary changes include the insurance framework. Google, Volvo and Mercedes have already announced that they will accept full liability for collisions involving their self-driving cars.
Meanwhile, as far as the UK Government are concerned, apart from putting in place the surrounding legal framework, which will be considerable, I personally do not think they should get too involved in funding automated cars. As I said, there are already billions and billions of pounds of private sector research being invested. All the major car companies are competing in secret against each other, and the Government cannot hope to be anything more than a bit player in the field. Buses and public transport might be different, and especially investment in their route infrastructure, as several noble Lords have mentioned, but there is enough private investment going into automated cars to mean that this is not an area for the Government to waste their money on. By all means create testing facilities and make it clear what we expect from the private sector, but leave the actual investment to those who will reap the rewards. The same probably applies to the world of automated ships, where the rewards are also considerable, but again the governance here will need serious attention.
The one area where Innovate UK really must get involved, along with DfID and Defra with their research budgets, is the area of automated tractors, which I have dubbed CATs and which I feel have great advantages. There seems to be a remarkable reluctance by normal tractor companies to get involved—they seem to hope that this advance will go away—but the public benefit could be enormous, and I believe there is a serious role here for even this cash-strapped Government.
My Lords, the number of road vehicles is growing, which is government policy. They are still powered by fossil fuels, leading to air pollution and carbon emissions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has just explained. These damage people’s health. There are millions of deaths per year, especially in urban areas; in the UK the figure may be about 30,000 and rising. Carbon emissions affect the global and regional climate, and there are many impacts on people’s health, forests, food production and the biosphere generally. These damaging consequences are forcing nations around the world to plan for the widespread introduction of electric vehicles, which will be powered by new sources of electric power such as renewables, fossil and fusion.
Recent technology developments mean that electric vehicles can travel fast enough for reasonable people but, as I am sure noble Lords know, there are fanatics who want to go very fast. These vehicles can be controlled by human drivers or by remote control, with the controller in the vehicle or, with some technologies, with controllers distant from the vehicle—tractors and mining, for example.
The government response to the report from our Science and Technology Committee points out the challenge to the UK car industry and associated technological industries. Currently much of the financial ownership and control is in the hands of foreign-owned automobile companies, although these companies certainly invest in the UK’s R&D and work with UK subcontractors and institutes. Our report rightly emphasises that training in computing and electrical systems will be critical. As I learned last week when talking to people at Nissan, small garages will be dealing with very high voltage systems that could be extremely dangerous. That is just an example of where we need new thinking on training.
As the committee learned, these large international companies are steering many of the new developments, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, was saying. These developments are being looked at by international panels, which are developing international standards. It was extremely difficult for the committee to obtain clear evidence about the UK’s exact role—indeed, the whole report was UK-centric—but in Germany and Europe there is much greater co-ordination in this respect. So it is essential that in future the UK participate more strongly in these groups but, as I have said, there is little indication in the report that that will happen.
Recently Nissan presented the first mass-market electric semi-automatic car, the Leaf, which will be available in January 2018. I and others who were shown the vehicle in the showrooms on Horseferry Road—maybe noble Lords can go down there—were given a briefing. My concern was that this car and its drivers will operate on British and European roads in ways the Government and companies simply have not taken into account; indeed, I am not sure that the people selling it had any idea how much of the technology was working. Compare that with the knowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, had of his car when he first got one.
The safety of semi-automatic and fully automatic cars is of considerable concern, and it has not been explained—certainly not to the people buying them. There are various levels of technology that they need to understand, as other noble Lords have commented. Some of the vehicles that are already on the roads partly monitor various features of the car’s surrounding environment, including neighbouring cars, as well as the car’s interior, and they are partially controlled by the driver. There are considerable differences between the Audi, which uses the driver’s eyeball to detect whether they are responding to what is happening, and the Nissan, which can measure the pressure of their grip on the wheel and even the blood oxygen level in their hand. So the training for full-time and part-time drivers is really important in order to know what the vehicle’s responses are, its function and how it will relate to other vehicles. For example, recently the driver of a vehicle in Britain suddenly began to lose consciousness, or at least his concentration, and he found to his astonishment when he came round that the car had already moved into another lane, but he had never been told when he bought the car that it would do that. It is a curious phenomenon that we are going to have these much more complicated cars, but there is no standard arrangement for how people learn about them and use them.
It is interesting that Elon Musk’s company, which has one of the most complex cars in the world on the market, gives people 90 minutes’ training to use one of its fancy cars. I know someone who had a car like that and he crashed; they are not easy to drive. That is extraordinary.
However, coming to the rescue over the horizon are the transport commissioners. I used to be a transport commissioner. Most people have never heard of them. They live in remote little offices in various boroughs, and they are meant to say what qualification bus drivers need and whether you can park a bus in someone’s back yard—really subtle things. They may well be necessary in future to teach people and organisations about these new systems; there should surely be standards for them.
As other noble Lords have mentioned, all autonomous vehicles should have a visible sign on them. That is particularly important when autonomous vehicles travel along country roads, where they may crash into traditional road vehicles. If you have had a near fatal crash, as I did once when hitchhiking in a Jaguar which nearly crashed into a tractor, you understand what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, is saying. This is the real world that vehicle designers must allow for with the latest technology.
Finally, following our excellent chairman’s remarks, data issues will become dominant in every aspect of traffic vehicles and drivers, just as our committee is looking at data throughout the National Health Service. This general theme for the future is well stated by our chairman, and he deserves a big thank you.
My Lords, I add my appreciation to the noble Earl, Lord Selbourne, and his committee for their balanced report, particularly for its emphasis on the need for testing and innovation, combined with cautionary concerns about the downsides of autonomous vehicles.
The public focus is on levels 4 and 5—fully self-driving road cars—and whether they would be safer than human drivers or not in coping with real road conditions. If an object obstructs the road ahead, could a robotic driver distinguish between a bag, a dog or a child? The claim is that it cannot infallibly do this, but will do better than the average human driver. Is that true?
Be that as it may, it is important to realise how much has been achieved in improving safety. The long-term trend is gratifying. In 1930, when there were only a million cars on the road, there were more than 7,000 fatalities. By 2000, the annual death toll had halved, and since 2000 it has halved again to about 1,700 last year, although the number of cars now exceeds 20 million. The trend is due partly to better roads, but largely to safer cars and, in recent years, in particular to the electronic gadgetry incorporated in them and to sat-navs. This trend will surely continue, making driving safer and easier, leading to better lane discipline on motorways, platooning of goods vehicles and suchlike. There is obvious scope for driverless machines in farming and harvesting, operating off-road.
Big data will increasingly allow smart systems of traffic management to enhance flow. This will not eliminate congestion, but should make it less ubiquitous than it would otherwise become. We can foresee and unreservedly welcome these incremental advances, which will make levels 2 and 3 feasible. But, as the report makes clear, the transition towards level 5—completely driverless vehicles on ordinary roads carrying mixed traffic —would be a truly disjunctive change. We are justified in being sceptical about how feasible and acceptable this transition would be.
The report is none the less right to encourage experiments in limited areas and new technology, and it is welcome that the Government support that. Driverless cabs may be quickly accepted where they have roads, or at least lanes, to themselves—in city centres or perhaps on motorways—just as we already accept driverless trains on, for instance, the Docklands Light Railway. It will be a long time, however, before truck and taxi drivers are completely redundant. As the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, emphasised, the transition to full automation would be exceedingly difficult.
As a parallel, think of what is happening in civil aviation. Most flying is on autopilot. A real pilot is needed only to cope with emergencies, but may not be alert at the crucial time. The 2009 crash of an Air France plane in the south Atlantic exemplified that. On the other hand, suicidal pilots have actually caused devastating crashes. Do we really think the public will ever be content to embark on a plane with no pilot on board at all? I doubt it, although for air freight, pilotless planes may be acceptable. Pilotless aircraft without passengers, especially small delivery drones, seem to have a promising future. Indeed, in Singapore, there are plans to avoid robotic delivery vehicles at ground level by replacing them with drones flying above the streets. But even for these, we are too complacent about the risk of collisions, especially if there is a huge proliferation in numbers.
For ordinary cars, software errors and cyberattacks cannot be ruled out. We are already seeing the hackability of their ever more sophisticated software and security systems. Can we confidently protect brakes and steering against being hacked? Computers can handle big data. AI will enable machines to control traffic flows, through smart motorways and so forth, and that should lead to an unalloyed benefit in reducing congestion for human drivers. But, as the report says, the effect of driverless cars on congestion when mixed with ordinary traffic could go either way.
An oft-quoted benign advantage of driverless cars is that we will hire and share them rather than own them. This could have the huge benefit of reducing the amount of space needed for parking in our city. But what is not clear is how far that will go: whether the wish to own one’s own car will indeed disappear, except among the Mr Toad or petrol head tendency, or if, on the other hand, it will remain widespread, in which case we will lose the benefit.
Finally, if driverless cars catch on, they will clearly boost road traffic at the expense of rail. Many of us now prefer the train for a 200-mile journey: it is less stressful than driving, and we can work or read. I certainly do. But if I had a chauffeur, I would go by car, with the advantage of door-to-door service. Therefore, if I had a driverless car, I would go that way, too, as I am sure would many. So if fully driverless cars on ordinary roads became safe and acceptable, they would surely reduce the capacity required on long-distance train routes, and quench the already dubious justification for the Himalayan investment in HS2. That is another reason why we need the studies to firm up if and when fully automated vehicles could be deployed.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Earl and his committee on a thorough report, which made fascinating reading. Some of the government responses are pretty good, too, but they do not go far enough. I agree with the committee that there is too much focus on highly automated private road vehicles, as the report says in the summary.
Other noble Lords have talked about some of the other sectors that need to be discussed. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, talked about preventing jaywalkers, but what about me on my bike? Do I want to be controlled automatically, or do I have to have a special bike lane? Will I have to use exercise to move it or will it be electric, as it is at the moment? There are lots of things to talk about; that needs looking at at some stage.
The other issue that I have been looking at in the past few months is that of cruise ships in the high Arctic and Antarctic, and what happens when something goes wrong and people have to evacuate and be picked up again. I hope to have a debate about it in the new year. I am honorary president of the United Kingdom Maritime Pilots’ Association. One of my pilot friends told me that you have to be careful in the Arctic. There are lots of rocks and islands there, as we all know, but there is also very bad GPS coverage because nobody goes there—and therefore there are no satellites. I am not sure whether that is true, but it is something that will be vital if we want to get this one-inch accuracy that has been talked about. It will be just as important to have that accuracy further north and in other places as it will be around the UK. I shall leave that—I am sure the Minister will not necessarily be able to respond to me tonight, but it is something we need to look at in future.
I want to concentrate on the role of government and the private sector. As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, the Government’s role is to facilitate and sometimes fund research and ensure that there is value for money and fair play in competition. Industry develops the systems at high cost, as noble Lords have said, probably worldwide and generally in competition, because that is what drives the innovation. Where do those meet?
When we talk about infrastructure, whether roads, cable or rail, we probably want only one set of infrastructure because it is so expensive, even if some people want to build new roads around the place to go faster, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggested. In most places, one set of infrastructure is probably a good thing. You get several competing suppliers of the kind of kit that goes on the vehicles and the infrastructure. Recently, I chaired a conference on cable infrastructure—nothing to do with broadband, I am afraid. But somebody from Virgin broadband said that they would have to dig up every street in the country to put parallel cables to BT’s because their cables would be better than BT’s. That may be the case—I do not know—but what we should have done 10 or 20 years ago was say that there was one piece of infrastructure, cables or whatever type they were, with one infrastructure manager, properly controlled, who would then be able to allow all the different cable companies and so on to use that infrastructure on a fair basis. Where it will go now, I do not know—but it is an example of where we got it wrong in the past.
The railways have got it wrong, too, in a different way, because they have a new signalling system called ERTMS, which we are told will increase the capacity of railway lines by between 20% and 30%. Network Rail is doing quite well with this, but it relies on four or five different suppliers—at least European, if not world suppliers—providing the kit. For the last 10 years, the industry has been fighting, because these suppliers all produce wonderful kit but it is not interoperable. If we got Siemens equipment on a train and Alstom on the track, it did not work. The European Commission and our Government have been trying very hard to get this interoperability, and I think that they have just about got there, but has taken 10 years. I would have started encouraging the Chinese to add a bit of competition to see what would happen. But it has taken a very long time. The question in people’s minds has always been whether the four suppliers were trying to run a nice cartel, screwing the Government and the customer for delays and high costs. I do not have an answer to that, of course; I do not think anybody has. But it is very important that, when the same thing happens on road, as I am sure that it will, there is a clear definition of who is doing what, where the private sector can provide a really good service and where the Government have to facilitate.
The last issue that I would like to raise is one that the noble Earl raised in his opening remarks about the benefits and costs. Government does not have a very good reputation on cost benefits, whether with the Navy, the railways or roads. The west coast main line was going to increase capacity by 30%, as I said, and the costs shot through the roof; it got stopped, and now we are having a high-speed line instead. With all these things, it is very difficult to judge what happens at junctions. Straight roads and railways are fine—but when you get to junctions it gets much more complicated and reduces the capacity.
There is also the question of what costs of accidents one puts into this model. A year or two ago, I think I established from government figures that the cost of a fatality on the road was about £300,000. That means that, if you could stop the thing happening again for under £300,000, you would do it but, if you could not, you would not, so to speak. On the railway, it is £2 million. Those two figures should be the same. Somebody is hurt or has died; the cost of putting it right should be the same. That needs to be very carefully looked at by the Government as we take this forward.
I conclude by repeating that the relationship between government and industry suppliers is fundamental to success, whether in agriculture, roads, railways or anything. I am not sure that this was recognised as strongly as it should be in the report and the government response—but I am sure that it will be in future. It is a great step forward even having this report at all.
My Lords, it was a privilege to be on the Select Committee producing this report under the wise and excellent chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. I begin by declaring my relevant interests: I am chairman of the Department for Transport’s Science Advisory Council and the current president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and I also head the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction at Cambridge University.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, has already referred to the recently published Industrial Strategy White Paper, which states that:
“The government wants to see fully self-driving cars, without a human operator, on UK roads by 2021”.
This is a bold ambition. It has to be asked: how realistic is it to put fully driverless cars on the public roads within four years? Our report addressed a range of issues to be resolved before we anticipate the widespread use of driverless cars on our roads. I will briefly comment on four: congestion, data sharing, skills and research.
My first point relates to congestion, which has been referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. Many witnesses told our committee that CAVs for the roads sector are expected to improve traffic conditions and reduce congestion. But this is not obvious. It is likely that the theoretical potential of CAVs to reduce traffic congestion varies, depending on the level of vehicle autonomy and the proportion of CAVs on the roads. We were unable to say with any certainty what the impact on congestion will be. We thought it possible to imagine a situation of total gridlock as CAVs cautiously crawl around city centres. The Government acknowledged this uncertainty in their response to our report, highlighting the need for research to understand the possible impacts of CAVs on congestion on our road networks.
In the future, driverless cars could well bring a wide uptake of personal mobility as a service—one of the great potential benefits. In which case, car ownership could very substantially reduce, and city streets would no longer have nearly as many privately owned cars. This point was also made by the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow. This could be highly beneficial for our city road networks; a widespread absence of parked cars would certainly reduce congestion.
My second point relates to data sharing. Our report highlighted that it is essential that any data gathered from CAVs is used in accordance with data protection law. However, we pointed out that the meaning of personal data is unclear in the context of CAVs. It will be important to achieve privacy for individuals and communities while also using data to achieve efficiency and safety of CAV operations. But data relating to an individual’s vehicle on position, speed and performance on the road cannot be regarded as entirely personal. Such data is needed for public benefit if a CAV system is to operate effectively as a whole. Good data governance will therefore be required to secure appropriate protection of personal information while safely using and linking open and non-sensitive data. Sharing data for the public good means that some datasets are public, while others will be available only to certain parties. Distinctions will need to be made between commercially sensitive data owned by technology providers and open data.
This important point is also highlighted in the National Infrastructure Commission’s report Data for the Public Good, launched at the Institution of Civil Engineers last week. The report emphasises that data protection is fundamental to the development and successful deployment of smart city models and functions—this of course also applies to CAVs. The data governance review recently produced by the Royal Society and British Academy addresses the same issue. Public confidence in regulation and governance of data will be key to the successful exploitation of CAV technologies.
My third point relates to skills. Our report highlighted the urgent need to close the engineering and digital skills gap to ensure that the UK can benefit from the emerging CAV technologies. Last year, the Transport Systems Catapult published a report entitled, Intelligent Mobility Skills Strategy: Growing New Markets in Smarter Transport. It concluded that, in the wider intelligent mobility sector, which encompasses CAV technologies,
“The UK faces a potential skills gap of 742,000 people by 2025”.
This is a huge skills gap. The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, also published last year, echoed these findings. Cranfield University told our committee that the shortage of engineers the UK faces threatens the development of CAV technology and the creation of applications for CAV. This point was also made in evidence from Professor Paul Newman of Oxford University. He questioned the effectiveness of the UK’s education system in delivering people with the right skills for the CAV sector. He said:
“I cannot overstate the importance of this: we need about 10,000 more engineers a year. We need to plough money into universities to teach information engineering, data engineering and software”.
In their response to our report, the Government acknowledged the need for investment right across the education and training pipeline—in universities, the further education sector and schools—to deliver people with the right skills for the CAV sector. My question to the Minister is, is enough being done to ensure that the potentially very large engineering and digital skills gap will be closed in the coming years?
My final point relates to research. The recent government announcement of the launch of MERIDIAN —a new co-ordination hub for CAV technologies testing—is to be welcomed. This important new initiative is part of the automotive sector deal recently announced in the Industrial Strategy White Paper. It will bring the automotive sector and academia together to form a cluster of excellence in autonomous vehicle testing and research.
As mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, the Government plan to continue to support scientific research in AI robotics and related information technology at academic institutions. This too is to be welcomed. We need to ensure that the UK continues to have a world-leading research base in these crucial areas. While this type of research is vital for the success of CAVs for the UK, we must not forget the need for research on human interactions with CAVs—in other words, the social and behavioural questions relating to CAVs, most of which remain largely unanswered. Our report highlighted this and the Government have responded very positively. Research to understand the attitudes of the public to CAVs will be vital, particularly in the context of mixed fleets of driverless cars and traditional cars. Predictions suggest that we will have mixed fleets for at least 20 years. There are those who will always want to drive their cars: we will always have “Mr Toads”. With driverless and traditional cars together on the roads, will the public be prepared to trust and accept autonomous technologies? Without a high degree of public acceptance, the huge potential for driverless cars on our roads will not materialise.
My Lords, it is always preferable to speak first in these debates, because to follow such a daunting array of knowledge is difficult.
For anybody who did not sit on the committee, it must be clear by now that this report was not prepared autonomously. It was not a driverless committee. We had the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, at the wheel, for which we are very grateful. We also benefited from the expert navigation of the clerk and the advisers, for which we are also very grateful. I should declare my relevant interest in GKN, which is active in the automotive sector.
The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, talked about creeping automation. My first car was a Hillman Imp, which had the fantastic innovation of an automatic choke, which, nine times out of 10, automatically flooded the carburettor. I hope that the automation of which we are speaking today will be more successful.
Despite its shelf life, as pointed out by my noble friend, this report has turned out to be well timed, because the government response has been bookended by the industrial strategy and the publication, and imminent arrival, of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill. It should be pointed out that the Bill is focused largely on insurance with respect to this issue. The very important point brought out by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on standards, with which I am in complete agreement, is unlikely to be addressed through that Bill, unless something changes. We need to look for a vehicle—if noble Lords will excuse the pun—which enables that standards issue to be discussed soon, because I know very well that other countries are working on this. Germany, for example, is working very hard in the standards vein to help to rig things in its direction.
This has been a wide-ranging debate which characterises the problems and the challenge that the committee faced in corralling that debate. I will try to stick to the less science fiction aspects and keep at the practical near-term part of the debate around: the ambitions of the industrial strategy; the near sole focus on automotive at the possible expense of other sectors; the role of LTAs, which no one has mentioned today; the huge skills gap, which we have just heard about; and some wider sociological implications. With apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I will try to do that unreasonably quickly.
On the industrial strategy, in strategic terms the Government seem bent on striking out for global leadership in automation technology. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out, this is a creditable ambition but it is also a very tough one. I wonder whether the Government have either understated or perhaps misunderstood the scale of this challenge. Global investment in this area is already on a scale of tens of billions of pounds. To keep up with and match that level is a very tough ask. The artificial intelligence sector deal is clearly a statement that has been made, as was pointed out by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, but how are the Government really planning to lead in this segment, and what is it that leads them to believe that we can lead in this segment?
On the other hand, it looks as if practical moves have been made to essentially create the UK as a test bed. That has the benefit of attracting in all-comers—that is obviously the idea—but how in essence will manufacturing, the technology and the knowledge then be rooted in this country? What is the Government’s strategy to do that? I should note that the UK is not alone. About six weeks ago, I sat down with the governor of Arizona. That state has entirely the same test-bed strategy and is one of probably at least 30 other US states and half the rest of the world involved in this. Therefore, can the Minister unpick this strategy a little for us today and perhaps set out which technologies in particular the Government will facilitate leadership in? As has been implied, a sector deal is all right, but it is not leadership. The Government need to lead and show where they are leading.
Overall, the focus on automotive is narrow; the Select Committee report also highlighted other opportunities. I understand that it would be unreasonable to expect the Minister to speak about some of these particular sectors, but the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, thoroughly and brilliantly highlighted one area of opportunity, around agriculture. It is also clear that the levels of investment required to gain that leadership in agriculture are much less than the sort of numbers that need to be punted in even to start to compete in the automotive sector. It would be helpful to have some comment on that. The fall-back response from the Government is, “The industrial strategy grand challenge process will deal with this”. It is not clear how that process will be generated after the initial topics which have been set by the Government. How will new challenges be pitched, chosen and moderated? Our understanding is that the Government set those challenges rather than UKRI; how will that process work?
Briefly, on local transport authorities, as the Minister knows, the LTAs are responsible for the vast network of the UK’s roads. While it is clear that our motorways are on the way to preparing for some sort of connectedness, it is absolutely clear that our local roads are not—a point my noble friend Lady Randerson made. So what is the vision for engaging the LTAs in all this? To reflect a theme that has come through from many speakers—the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and others—there is the question of the mixed economy. It is easy to see how a convoy of trucks running up a motorway can work, but how will the mixed economy of autonomous, semi-autonomous, and manual vehicles, bicycles, people on foot, tractors, dogs, cats and whatever you like work on a local road, which currently has about zero connectivity with anywhere? What is the Government’s vision here?
On skills, again, the noble Lord, Lord Mair, absolutely nailed it when he spoke of the huge, stark shortage we are facing. This of course is just one sector and one industry. When we look across all technology industries, the skills shortage is a huge gulf. The industrial strategy response to this was not sufficient. I am something like the ancient mariner who stops one in three on the need for a joined-up UK skills strategy. Skills sits in a variety of different ministries. It has no clear champion across government; a variety of people keep shoving things back and forth. We have to have some sort of national strategy on skills. To focus again on the Ministry of Transport, I understood that next year would be the Year of Engineering. Perhaps the Minister can update us on what this seeks to achieve, how it will be measured and how we will know what a glorious success it will be.
Finally, on what I would call people, I have a sort of cry of the heart that we have to bring out the social implications of this. We have touched on some of those: data, jobs and the wider changing relationship between humans and machines which serve them. On data, my noble friend Lady Randerson and the noble Lord, Lord Mair, made absolutely clear the challenge and the dangers around data. There is a group of companies that will fund vehicles to get that data—it is highly valuable. We have to have a position, nationally and internationally, around that data. Can the Minister explain to us what the steps will be to develop that policy domestically and then to propagate it across a meaningful international platform?
On jobs, again set out by my noble friend Lady Randerson, there is a real challenge. I would like the Minister to commit to working on modelling the impact, because it is not clear to me that any impact study—dare I use that phrase?—has been done on the numbers and types of jobs that will be gained and lost in this process. We on these Benches would also like the Minister to commit to publishing the results of that impact study, so that we do not have to go to a small room and sign a book in order to see them.
Finally, can the Minister, either in her department or across government, undertake some serious social research into how people relate to machines? We heard a number of comments on the interface between automation and human intervention, which is one aspect of the social response, and an interesting part of the challenge is how vehicles will keep their nominal pilots sufficiently interested and engaged. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, talked about people being trained to use the vehicles. Of course, people can spend many weeks of training before undergoing a driving test; perhaps under the noble Lord’s tutorship we should be talking about people taking passenger tests in order to travel in these driverless vehicles.
However, on a more serious note, there is a wider sociological issue, although this is probably not the forum for it. The interrelation between people and machines does not just rewire the hardware of the machines; it rewires the humans. We have seen that in relation to iPhones and smartphones. It rewires the way in which people act and think. More research is needed—as researchers always say—into that whole area of how people interrelate with the machines that will increasingly run their lives.
In conclusion, this report sets a milestone on an exciting, potentially rocky and quite interesting road that will create a different future for many of us, and I look forward to the Minister’s response to this debate. On the pace of the change, I endorse the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that change like this usually takes longer than people expect. However, I am also of the view that, when change comes, it is often more profound and thorough than people expect. With that, I hope that this report helps to mitigate some of the issues along the way. I hope that the Government will use it as a springboard to do some of all that extra research and investigation that is needed in order to smooth our way along the road.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and his committee for their report. As has been said, it contains four main findings. These are that the Government are too focused on driverless cars when the early benefits are likely to be in other sectors; that the development of connected and autonomous vehicles across different sectors needs co-ordination; that there needs to be further government-commissioned social and economic research to weigh the potential human and financial implications of connected and autonomous vehicles; and that the Government need to do much more, including in the field of skills, to ensure that we can maximise the opportunities that connected and autonomous vehicles offer in different sectors.
I hope that the Government will take on board and act on, and continue to act on, the four main findings of the report. Their response to it seems a bit defensive in places, but then I suppose that government responses to reports over the years usually have been.
The committee is not seeking to be political or to damn, but it is seeking to offer considered and constructive findings based on genuine expertise and experience to help ensure that we can be one of the global leaders in this field and reap the benefits, and address the potential pitfalls, including over data, that will, or could, arise from being so.
We surely need to ensure that we can be up with the best, as significant change in this field is already taking place in other parts of the world. General Motors will soon begin testing autonomous cars in the far-from-straightforward transport environment of New York City, with a fleet of self-driving taxis appearing to be the initial goal, while the European Commissioner said that connected vehicles are likely to become available in the next two to three years.
On that latter issue, the Government said in response to the committee—on recommendation 27, I think— that they would be reporting back to the National Infrastructure Commission by the end of 2017 on improving our digital infrastructure on the roads network. Bearing in mind that we are quite close to the end of 2017, have the Government reported back to the NIC and, if so, what was the thrust of that report back?
I would like to raise a few points with the Government about the impact and future of autonomous vehicles in the light of some of the issues raised by the Committee’s report. In a recent Written Answer in the Commons, the Government said that,
“production of CAVs and CAV technologies in the UK will support over 27,000 jobs”.
However, that was in answer to a Written Question asking what assessment had been made of the potential effect on employment of the introduction of autonomous vehicles. Does that mean that the Government do not consider that connected and autonomous vehicles will have any negative impact on jobs in any field of transport, or at least not for a great many years, an issue about which they remained silent in their Written Answer last month? Will the Minister say what negative impact on jobs autonomous vehicles might have and over what period of time?
What impact do the Government think autonomous vehicles might have on the numbers of people who drive vehicles, fly aircraft or crew ships for a living? If connected and autonomous vehicles reduce the incidence of accidents, which is clearly a major plus point, what impact do the Government think this might have, for example, on the numbers of people employed in garages and in crash repair centres, as well as in the emergency services? If the production of CAVs and CAV technologies in the UK will support over 27,000 jobs, is it the Government’s view that that will mean fewer jobs involved in the production of the kinds of vehicles that we have today? If so, in the Government’s view, what kind of job losses are we talking about?
The committee report refers to the affordability and accessibility of connected and autonomous vehicles. Do the Government have a view on whether they are likely to be affordable for most people? If so, over what period of time will that be achieved? One assumes that the move to electric vehicles will also mean this form of power for autonomous vehicles. Have the Government given any consideration to fuel duty, or another form of power duty, that would apply to autonomous electric vehicles, as this will have an impact on cost? Fuel duty on petrol and diesel vehicles is a source of significant revenue for the Government. How will this source of revenue be replaced—will it be replaced?—as petrol and diesel vehicles reduce in numbers and electric-powered vehicles, autonomous and otherwise, increase?
What government oversight is there into research and development on connected and autonomous vehicles, bearing in mind that there are major safety issues and considerations which go well beyond simply those people owning and using such vehicles or indeed making and selling them? Have the Government laid down, or do they intend to, any minimum standards that have to be met in this key area of safety as far as the goals of research and development in this field and beyond are concerned? What provision will there be for the sharing of information on the development of autonomous vehicles and its implications, and what will be the involvement of local transport authorities?
On this latter point, the Government said in their response to the committee’s recommendation 5 that a further meeting with local authorities, described as a “forum for local authorities”, was scheduled for this autumn. What was discussed at that meeting? What conclusions were reached? How many local authorities were represented and which other bodies or organisations were present?
The committee report refers to international co-operation and the importance of cybersecurity. There would appear to be a real risk of autonomous vehicles being hacked, with potentially very serious consequences, including for safety, presumably on land, sea or in the air. Is cybersecurity being fully addressed as part of research and development objectives? Have any standards that have to be achieved in respect of cybersecurity been, or will be, laid down or set? The Government’s response to the committee’s recommendation 23 refers to the publication of a set of principles for cybersecurity of vehicles, which does not appear to be the same thing.
One of the committee’s recommendations—number three—is that the Government should bring forward a wider transport strategy that places the development and implementation of connected and autonomous vehicles in the context of wider policy goals, such as increased use of public transport and the reduction of congestion and pollution. Reading the Government’s response to that recommendation, it is not clear to what extent the Government believe that they have met that recommendation. They say in their response that they place importance on long-term planning and strategy,
“and as our work on CAVs matures we will continue to set this in the context of the Government’s wider policy aims for the future of transport”.
Do the Government see connected and autonomous vehicles increasing the use of public transport and reducing congestion and pollution, and if so, how and why? One could presumably argue that since autonomous vehicles would take away the strain of driving as well as enabling those who cannot at present drive a car or who do not wish to do so to travel by car, this might be at the expense of usage of public transport and reducing congestion.
Finally, the Government’s response to the committee’s recommendations came out over seven months after publication of the report, and not all of those seven months were taken up by the general election campaign. That was a considerable period of time to wait for an area involving rapid international change. Bearing in mind that we are talking about fields of activity where developments are likely to progress and occur with considerable rapidity, with potentially very significant impacts on the lives of all of us, how do the Government intend to keep this House advised of further progress being made on implementing or facilitating the implementation of the committee’s recommendations and on delivering whatever are the Government’s objectives and goals in this field, since this debate cannot be the end of the matter?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Selborne for introducing this debate, and all noble Lords for their contributions. I am grateful to the members of the Science and Technology Committee for their work in producing their report, many of whom we have heard from today. I also acknowledge my noble friend Lord Henley, who has worked closely with my department in responding to the report, and I apologise for the delay in that response. This has been an interesting and thought-provoking debate and a wide range of issues have been raised. I will do my best to answer as many as I can in the time allowed.
As many noble Lords have acknowledged, connected and autonomous vehicles will have a huge impact on transport in this country, and the technology is already well advanced. So of course it is vital that we are prepared for the changes to come. We are on the cusp of a profound shift in the transport system, enabled by technology. That is why we have identified the future of mobility as one of four grand challenges in the industrial strategy.
In the Budget, the Chancellor set out a vision for fully self-driving vehicles to be on our roads by 2021. The Government are also taking forward the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill to ensure that consumers are protected and insurers are prepared for the introduction of automated vehicles to our roads.
The first recommendation of the committee is to ensure that we do not have too narrow a focus on highly automated private road vehicles, a point raised this evening by many noble Lords. We absolutely agree that work in this field must address a broader market. Although our self-driving car programme has been very successful, we are also working hard to extend the benefits of the technology more widely. One example is a facility in Oxfordshire, Remote Applications in Challenging Environments, which is conducting research and development to explore how to remove people from dangerous environments such as nuclear decommissioning.
As mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, in the farming sector the Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre is researching advanced technologies; projects include looking at the use of robotics for planting, monitoring and harvesting crops. The noble Lord also highlighted the advantages that such technology can bring, both in the UK and abroad. I look forward to researching that and learning more. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, made an interesting point about whether we should focus more on specific industries to see the benefit of that; we will certainly reflect on that.
Automation offers clear opportunities for the aviation and maritime sectors, alongside those offered in road transport. We have already seen some early deployments of automation in those sectors; UK companies are at the forefront of that. As technology develops there, we will work with industry to ensure that we have the right regulatory framework to deal with it. These are just a few examples of the many exciting opportunities beyond self-driving cars—opportunities that will help us to deliver the transformative benefits of connected and autonomous technology to new sectors of the UK economy.
As part of our industrial strategy, we are working with industry to ensure that we have the right level of leadership in emerging sectors. In the recent White Paper, the Government set out a “sector deal” approach; those sectors deals are being developed right now in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomous systems. The industrial strategy also outlined the role of an industry-led AI council: to lead collaboration between industry, research organisations and government. Alongside that, there is the Challenge Fund, which established the robotics and AI advisory group. I am pleased to hear my noble friend Lord Selborne welcome the approach on sector deals; I hope this provides more information and gives your Lordships some confidence that we are trying to deal with the cross-cutting nature of industrial collaboration.
Many noble Lords highlighted the importance of investment. Of course, we will continue to provide research and funding to mitigate the inherent risk of market failure in early-stage technology. That is vital to get industry on board and is already having an impact. Both Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover are running high-profile research programmes of around 100 highly automated vehicles here in the UK. By demonstrating our commitment to this emerging industry, we hope that businesses will invest in the UK with confidence.
We are establishing ourselves as a leading market for the testing and deployment of these technologies, and we intend to do all we can to stay in that position. By working closely with industry, we are better positioned to know where we should focus our resources. There are many examples of the work we are doing on this, including the Transport Systems Catapult and Innovate UK, which works with small and medium-sized enterprises in this field.
The Government have an important role to play in funding research. In the Autumn Statement last year, we announced an investment programme of nearly £5 billion over four years to boost the UK’s position as a world leader in science and innovation. The noble Lord, Lord Mair, highlighted the investment in the co-ordination hub, Meridian. I hope that demonstrates that the Government and industry have vital roles to play in delivering the benefits of this technology to the UK. We will support manufacturers and technology developers, large and small, throughout the process. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that it is key that we get the relationship between government and industry right.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and other noble Lords raised the important issue of infrastructure. There is a huge challenge ahead of us in making sure that our infrastructure is ready for connected and automotive technology when it is available. Very different systems from those available today will be needed. However, this is an opportunity. We have a number of programmes under way to understand more about what infrastructure is required and how we can profit from that opportunity. We are engaging with all levels of the supply chain to understand what we need; that includes vehicle manufacturers, Highways England and others, covering telecommunications, data and infrastructure. We have specific initiatives in place analysing how connected and autonomous technologies will work on our roads and influence our future. The London to Dover A2/M2 connected corridor will test a variety of communications systems to help us establish how the new technologies will be deployed.
A lot of this infrastructure will also affect local roads, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Fox. We agree with the recommendation in the report that local transport authorities will play an integral role in the success of connected and autonomous vehicles, and that the Government can help to improve learning as the technologies develop. We meet LTAs frequently; we recently initiated a forum for authorities deploying, or interested in deploying, connecting vehicle technologies. I believe the first meeting was in Newcastle a few weeks ago, so that work is ongoing. I hope this demonstrates that we are thinking ahead by ensuring that the infrastructure will be ready when we need it.
When I read the statement from the Government about local transport authorities I was concerned. I envisaged myself in some autonomous vehicle heading from one borough that is keen on the idea and has got ahead of the game to another that is not terribly clued up. It will be interesting to understand what the Minister thinks will happen at the boundary between two local transport authorities that have not quite got themselves aligned.
The noble Baroness raises an interesting point and one that we will discuss with them. When there is a different level of interest in different local authorities, there will be that challenge. We are working with them on co-ordination.
Many noble Lords raised the importance of safety, which is of course at the very heart of our approach. Self-driving vehicles, just like any other vehicle today, will have to meet internationally agreed safety standards. Vehicles will not be sold or used in the UK without having met these standards. As noble Lords acknowledged, we expect these vehicles to be safer than current cars, but I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on the importance of ensuring that the drivers—or users—of these vehicles are tested, as well as the vehicles themselves. We must consider the wider safety impacts.
We do not yet have a time. Obviously, we need to look at that vigorous testing to ensure drivers are properly capable. We need to look at the wider safety impacts on jaywalkers, on the use of drones and on cyclists.
The issue of standards has been raised by many noble Lords. As is the case for other vehicle safety technologies, we expect standards to be set internationally at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. The UK has historically been very influential in those discussions. Indeed, we are chairing many of the relevant committees discussing standards for automated vehicles.
The arrival of automated vehicles will raise important ethical questions about how machines make choices that might impact on human safety. These are incredibly important issues and should be discussed publicly and transparently. The report calls for further government-commissioned social research, a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and others. We are taking forward a number of actions to help facilitate this discussion. We are investing with industry in public demonstrations of self-driving vehicles to raise awareness and to prompt debate. We have begun a three-year social and behavioural research programme to examine public perceptions of automated vehicle technologies. In the Budget we announced a new centre for data ethics and innovation, which will advise government on the ethical, safe and innovative use of data and artificial intelligence across all sectors, including transport. More research and debate is of course needed in this area, both within the UK and internationally, but I hope noble Lords will agree that, while we do not have all the answers to these issues, it is important that we do not stifle progress so we can make progress on these potentially life-saving innovations.
Pretty much every noble Lord raised the skills agenda. The Government absolutely agree with the conclusion of the committee’s report that skills are a key factor in achieving our objectives. That is recognised in our industrial strategy. The UK is well above the EU average in having access to the specialist skills required to develop and implement this technology, but we need to stay ahead. We will have to keep improving as the digital economy grows. For connected and autonomous vehicles this will require continued focus on a wide range of technical disciplines, from vehicle and infrastructure engineering to digital capabilities. I note the point the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, made about ensuring we have the right structure in place to recognise the skills.
The industry-led Automotive Council has played a pivotal role in improving skills in the sector, with an increasing emphasis on skills requirements for these vehicles. It has developed and trialled new trailblazer apprentices, targeting areas where there are skills shortages and co-ordinating work with other sectors. Through the transport infrastructure skills strategy we are looking at what skills we should be identifying for the future. It has developed STAT—the Strategic Transport Apprenticeship Taskforce—which has developed the most detailed skills forecasting tool in transport history to understand the skills we will need. That should show us where the gaps will be. It is also encouraging to see universities and industry working together to develop their own initiatives. For example, the University of Warwick will next September launch a master’s programme in smart, connected and autonomous vehicles.
The year 2018 will indeed be the Year of Engineering, as promoted kindly by the noble Lord, Lord Fox. It is a national campaign to increase awareness and understanding among young people, their parents and teachers of what engineers do. I look forward to keeping noble Lords updated throughout the campaign.
So a lot of good work is going on, but I agree with noble Lords and many of those who gave evidence to the committee that we must continue developing our skills strategy to attract the best talent to the industry in future and to keep them in this country.
The report also calls for further government-commissioned economic research on the potential financial implications of connected and autonomous vehicles, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, among others. We have published a forecast of the core economic impacts of connected and autonomous vehicle technology development and production in the UK. We are conducting analysis to refine the assumptions underpinning our economic forecasts, but it would not be productive to commission an overall cost- benefit analysis of connected and autonomous vehicle technologies at this time. There is not sufficient information to produce a realistic, meaningful or robust indication of all the economic benefits, and costs, of connected and autonomous vehicles.
Many noble Lords raised the important issue of jobs. Of course, the Government recognise that the technologies we are discussing today will have an impact on the labour market. That is why as part of our industrial strategy we are acting to ensure that the UK is well placed to succeed in the economy of the future. This technology will both create and disrupt jobs. That is true of all significant technological changes throughout history. The commercialisation of automated vehicles will create jobs in their development and production, as well as the new services they enable. We want UK businesses and people to be able to capitalise on those opportunities as far as they can. We are in a good position to achieve this as a consequence of our strength in the depth of disciplines that underpin this emerging market.
Alongside this, it is inevitable that some jobs will be disrupted, but what is important is that we are able to adapt. These changes will be tough to predict. Some of the more dramatic changes may not happen for some time. As I said earlier, making specific predictions about the impact on jobs is not possible at this early stage, so I am not able to provide the figures. However, we are ensuring that we are equipping people with the skills they need to compete in the future jobs market. I have already outlined some of the action that government, industry and academia are taking to tackle the issue of skills and the challenge of ensuring that, as this industry grows, so do jobs. As the technology emerges, we will continue to keep this issue under review.
My noble friend Lord Lucas raised an interesting proposal to make use of existing railway lines to help revive the local economy in the south-east and across the country. I understand that officials from my department are making connections with relevant UK companies to help pursue this idea, but I will certainly investigate it further and be very happy to meet my noble friend in the new year to discuss it.
On cybersecurity, we believe that industry must aim to design cybersecurity into connected vehicles. We recently published a set of cybersecurity principles for connected and autonomous vehicles to provide guidance to industry on how to address this issue. The department and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles work closely with the National Cyber Security Centre and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure on this issue. We are leading the international debate on the cybersecurity of road vehicles and, as I mentioned, we are chairing a technical working group in the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, which is developing internationally harmonised requirements on cybersecurity.
This evening’s debate has highlighted not only the challenges posed by the introduction of automated vehicles but the wealth of opportunities that they can bring to the UK. I again thank all noble Lords who have spoken, in particular my noble friend Lord Selborne, for raising this timely topic for debate. I also want to take this opportunity to thank all those who gave their time and expertise to producing such a comprehensive, interesting and thought-provoking report.
We will soon get another chance to debate this topic when the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill comes to your Lordships’ House next year. That will provide an opportunity to lay the legislative groundwork that ensures the UK is at the forefront of this growing industry for many years to come. I look forward to noble Lords’ contributions then.
It only remains for me to thank all who have participated in what I found a fascinating debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, there has been a lot of expertise and it has been a great privilege to participate. I particularly thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply; I was very encouraged by it. There was agreement around the Chamber that CAV has great potential, be it at sea, in agriculture or in freight movement, as well as for cars, on which our debate inevitably tends to concentrate. The committee was not of one mind on the timing of the introduction of driverless cars on roads: we could not make up our minds how soon it was going to be a reality. Since then, we have had the White Paper, which set a target of four years. I have a feeling that Sir Humphrey would say to his Minister, “Minister, that is a heroic target”.
Our debate has reinforced my conviction that we have some urgent issues to follow up. The skills gap was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mair. Then there are data regulation, social and behavioural questions—a fundamental point, addressed by many noble Lords, which I hope we can put more effort into—and the development of international standards, on which the Minister gave us a helpful reply. The Bill that will come from the other place soon deals more with insurance and other details, frankly, but I suspect it will be an opportunity to explore more fundamental issues that we must ensure the Government continue to recognise. I beg to move.
House adjourned at 9.26 pm.