Connected and… autonomous vehicles. There is very good reason why there needs to be an audible and indeed visible gap, as Andy Graham explains in the wake of the launch of a new connectivity scale

Starskyandhutch, lagerandlime, postageandpacking. These are all pairs of words that go together and are typically pronounced as one. Connectedandautonomous vehicles doesn’t fit in this category, but at any industry event you would think they do. For many of us in the real world of roads rather than the hype of the auto industry, we say connected and… autonomous vehicles, with a pause.

This is for several reasons. One, connected vehicles don’t need to be autonomous. They are all around us now, with 4-5 million on the roads of the UK alone right now and they are connected by fleet management devices, pay-as-you-go insurance and smartphones. Anyone using Waze or Google maps is connected, giving their location and speed.

Other projects I am working on use data from existing vehicles to identify potholes, look for missing roadsigns, set traffic signals more effectively than using in-road loops and identify dangerously slow traffic. We use connected vehicle data to identify poor traffic signal performance, and to find parking spots that are empty and pay for them without coins or without having to remember which of the many parking apps to use to pay.

Two, connected vehicles don’t have to be new ones. In fact, I have connected up a 1914 Model T Ford via a smartphone, the UK’s oldest connected vehicle (so far). And they don’t have to be cars – we can collect data from cycles, trucks, pedestrians, horses and tractors. In fact, the tractors in fields alongside the roads are some of the most connected (and automated) vehicles around.

Thirdly, autonomous vehicles are going to be new ones. And despite the predictions that they would be here in volume by 2021, they are still a long way off. Hence, we should speak about connected and… autonomous vehicles.

Finally, autonomous vehicles also need to work without connectivity. They cannot rely on always having a data signal – given both the poor geographic coverage of the mobile networks across roads and the not 100% guarantee of a signal. Connectivity will help the user experience immensely – for example telling a CAV that the parking space it thinks it can use is withdrawn from use, or there is a slow-moving Model T Ford around the corner (naturally painted black, with dim lights, in a dark area). But autonomous must mean what it says. So, we can have disconnected autonomous vehicles and connected human driven non-autonomous vehicles as well as Connectedandautonomous vehicles.

"Connected vehicles don’t need to be autonomous. They are all around us now, with 4-5 million on the roads of the UK alone and they are connected by fleet management devices, pay as you go insurance and smartphones "

This mixed up message leads to huge confusion for the “punters” – people buying vehicles and also smartphones. The SAE has done a great job in developing a scale for autonomy, from level 1 to 5. A Tesla is currently at level 3 and rising, and many projects are aiming to leap to level 5 because of the issues of handover back to a driver in a “mixed” mode.

Until recently, there was no equivalent scale for connectivity. So, to fill this gap, the ITS (UK) CAV Forum developed a scale that mirrors the SAE scale, but just for connected vehicles. A group of us thrashed out the various paths from a currently unconnected car (with sensors called eyes and ears, and connectivity by waving or blowing the horn at other vehicles) through to the ultimately “connected to everything” vehicle (called V2X). You can view the scale at

In short, it starts at level A (we use letters, so that you can combine SAE and our scale) and moves to up to F, taking on board level B and C adding radio traffic news (still highly popular and valued) and current sat nav, and eCall.

Level D means connection to the vehicle’s displays by the smartphone for navigation, and also includes smart parking and better use of fleet management and insurance data. So, the future fully connected fully autonomous vehicle would be a 5F, but a human-driven yet highly connected vehicle can soon be a 1D.

The scale shows that there is a leap that is currently possible that can vastly improve the level of information to the driver, and also the data from the vehicle (so we can make roads better before the advent of autonomy). It then brings in the developments in technology being tested in many V2V and V2I pilots, noting that there is a need for these to scale up and join up to make national services.

The scale was developed by the members of the ITS (UK) CAV Forum collaboratively, representing all fields of work (communications, roadside, automotive and policy), with many drafts and changes along the way. It’s been supported by the Department for Transport (DfT) and Highways England (who are already one of the supporters of the connected then autonomous message), so we know it fits both local and strategic roads. In developing it, we borrowed ideas from the changeover from analogue to digital TV.

For many years, we knew digital TV was coming but there were no HD programmes broadcast. Yet in order for them to be broadcast, people needed digital TVs. So, the message “HD ready” was marketed about a TV that one day will receive new signals. Consequently, people confidently bought HD ready TVs and watched analogue pictures on them until digital HD TV was fully rolled out. Set top boxes were available to convert old TVs to digital, and these were cheap and easy to use. But as the benefits of an HD picture and Internet-connected TVs emerged, most of these are now landfill.

The transition from analogue to digital was well planned and quite smooth. The benefits of HD ready were clear and there was one industry wide message – get “HD Ready”. They could have used lots of technobabble instead of “HD Ready” – like we in roads do with ITS-G5, 802.11p and Day 1.5 services, but instead they had a clear message in two words.

So, we spent a great deal of time making sure our scale is really understandable by the person in the street, buying a car or smartphone. The result is “connected roads level 1 and 2” that mirrors HD ready and Full HD ready.

Because of this, it applies not just to vehicles but smartphones and apps too. I am confident that the first service to reach our key stage of level D – large scale high quality in-vehicle services integrated into the vehicles – will be delivered by smartphone and app not line fit equipment.

Cubic are near with their in-vehicle signalling demonstrations (as evidenced in the March issue of Thinking Highways), as are AppyParking with their smart parking services, and of course Google with Google Maps and Waze. Recently Google Maps warned me of a queue on the M25 London Orbital motorway before the roadside equipment did, as a message directly on the screen in my two-year-old sub-£20,000 (€22,000) Seat car. The data came from my smartphone linked to the car by a cable and Android Auto. This is almost level D, but to be really connected, the in-vehicle messages need to include data from the road operator too – something Cubic is working on, as are the people involved in the A2/M2 project in the UK. Green Light Optimum Speed Advisory (GLOSA) that tells drivers when signals will go green to help reduce emissions is also being tested in various areas and the first to scale that up and make it available seamlessly across various cities will hit level D.

Incidentally, we are so near to level D that I have offered a bottle of champagne to the first project to meet it. It is already on ice, as I don’t think we are far away.

"A great deal of time was spent making sure the scale is really understandable by the person in the street buying a car or a smartphone. The result is “connected roads level 1 and 2” that mirrors HD ready and Full HD ready."

We are very proud of this scale, and it has gathered great support and positive feedback from our peers, other ITS organisations and even our friends in the automotive sector. Many reviewers have fallen into the trap of trying to define which technology defines which level but soon realise that nobody outside our arena really cares about V2V, DENM, SPAT or MTUO. They recall buying an HD ready TV and see what we are trying to do.

It will take some time – and a few more iterations – before the scale becomes as universally adopted as the SAE scale. Hence, we really do seek your feedback and offers of help to improve. And as technology emerges, just as it has done with 4K TV and smart TV leaping past HD ready, we will need to update. That’s why we didn’t make the top of the range level A as where do you then go? It would be like the energy ratings on fridges that are now A++++ because they got the scale wrong many years ago.

So we think we have a solution to Connectedandautonomous, called connected … and … autonomous. Let’s not join them as twins and explain the benefits of connectivity first to users and roads authorities (saves you time, safer driving, finds you parking spaces and saves money, reduces emissions, finds potholes, sets signals better…).

Let’s not join connected and autonomous as twins and instead first explain the benefits of connectivity to users and roads authorities.

Let’s get the roads, vehicles and communications all working together. Connected up, even?


Andy Graham is the founder of White Willow Consulting and the lead of the ITS (UK) Connected and…Autonomous Vehicle Forum

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