Oxfordshire leads the drive towards a connected future

Oxfordshire commuters could benefit sooner than they think from a range of ‘smart’ transport technologies, thanks to the funding won by the county council’s innovation team over the last two and half years.

Oxfordshire is the first council to include self-driving vehicles in its Local Transport Plan and sees harnessing technology and data as key to a thriving transport system for all. And, with ever-improving power technology, it is likely that connected vehicles will be far 'cleaner' when it comes to emissions.

The money, around £3.5m, has gone towards ground-breaking projects to drive forward the development of hi-tech vehicles and the intelligent infrastructure.

Vital pioneering schemes such as DRIVEN, MultiCAV, CAVL4R and OmniCAV have got under way and the county council is the first local authority in the UK to have its own team dedicated to Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAV).

Oxfordshire – a world-leader leader in technology

But the funding is only the part of the story as the investment helps to make work with local hi-tech companies possible, which stimulates economic growth and cements the county’s position as a world-leader in technology.

County Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council explains: “If you look at where we were five years ago, or even just 12 months, you will see quite a difference.

“Disruptive technologies – things that have the ability to transform how some services are provided – are being harnessed to assist with home care and, of course, the possibilities in transport are receiving a high-profile.

“I don’t think many will argue when we say that Oxfordshire County Council was the first to not only see the possibilities, but also to put some real weight behind making things happen.

“The council is in charge of the majority of Oxfordshire’s roads, and is also home to some world-class high-tech companies, so we know we can have a real impact in accelerating CAV adoption.”

Technology for the good of Oxfordshire residents

Oxfordshire is thriving – more jobs and homes are good news for the economy and communities, but what does this unprecedented growth mean for things like the future of transport?

Well, if you ask George Economides, the council’s lead CAV officer from the Research and Innovation Team, the future is already here.

And, to confirm Oxfordshire’s status as a wold-leader, he will soon be speaking at international events to tell the Oxfordshire story.

He, explains: “Not many councils are like Oxfordshire. It is really good to be working somewhere that is seizing the opportunity to shape emerging technology for the good of its residents.

“A vehicle could be a car, but it could also be a shuttle, wheelchair or bus. If the technology that drives and controls it is right there are some really exciting possibilities for safety, traffic management and improve quality of life.

“By getting involved now we are trying to make sure that connected and autonomous vehicles will meet the needs of Oxfordshire’s residents and businesses.

“We want the industry to grow, follow an approach that promotes equitable adoption and works for everyone while being economically viable and business friendly. We also need to be mindful of creating communities and places that people want to live in and can adapt to the times.”

So what could this mean for Oxfordshire residents? There are around 7,000 vehicles travelling to Oxford at peak times – none of which communicate with each other or with the traffic management infrastructure.

The county council is looking at ways to improve and future proof its traffic management to include new mobility options, transitioning from road side signs to a system that speaks with the vehicles.

Technology working together

Better integration with traffic lights and other traffic management, as well as other traffic, could help tackle traffic jams. And intelligent cars could take some of the stress out of driving, but there is more.

George explains: “I have a vested interest in my work and in the future autonomous vehicles would help people not driving (like myself) get around. There is also great potential for those who, live in rural areas where there are different accessibility and safety concerns.

“While autonomous vehicles would ease congestion in the urban areas, in rural areas they could help people to more easily get to hospitals, or their jobs. That’s why we want to focus on holistic adoption and think beyond urban hotspots for this technology. We have the opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives.”

A CAV is not capable of running the show itself though – there is more work needed to make sure they will get around safely in the future.

“We need a thorough understanding of safety; when is it safe to put the car on the road, and how do you monitor it once it’s there? We need to work with industry, academia and other public sector organisations to understand our role and how to deliver this.

“We also need to create a system for communication between traffic management and vehicles, and this also needs to work in tandem with other council run equipment in other parts of the country.

“There is a lot to do, but that is part of the excitement and challenge. And the fact is that autonomous vehicles WILL be part of the future whether Oxfordshire County Council plays a part or not. However, we aim to ensure we have a positive influence.”