The impact of transport automation on sustainability efforts

Discussing the wider implications of transport automation on factors such as infrastructure development and human and environmental impact.

The capacity for transport automation is becoming progressively more significant across Europe and beyond; the commitment to achieve connected and cooperative automated mobility (CCAM) has been enshrined in both the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) based on the 2015 Paris agreement, as well as through the European Green Deal.

Developing a framework for autonomous transport

Currently, Autonomous and Connected Transport trials are taking place over the world, concentrating on autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, mobility-as-a-service and drones. In these areas, cities and businesses have started competing, including some of the largest companies in the world like Tesla, as well as small start-ups. As a result, the industry has made massive advances in the last few years, but, in many cases, this has also led to an over-focus on technology and an overlooking of the user element.

As the data in this area become more significant and Artificial Intelligence (AI) has evolved, European authorities have a core role to play in considerations such as liability, ethics, and business models. In 2020, the European Union released guidelines concerning AI and ethics, as it is a longer process to create frameworks for transport and mobility. Thus, until now, there has been limited research into the broader associations of transport automation, such as infrastructure development and human and environmental impact.

WISE-ACT

Therefore, WISE-ACT is attempting to study to wider implications of Connected and Cooperative Automated Mobility, and to share the best practice on how to evaluate them. The WISE-ACT Cost Action, which is short for Wider Impacts and Scenario Evaluation of Autonomous and Connected Transport, is a cooperative research network involving approximately 200 experts from 42 different countries. This pluri-disciplinary network, which was launched in 2017, mobilises specialists in Europe, Australia, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States to spotlight travel behaviour, car sharing, travel time use and the future of public transport.

“A key challenge for Autonomous and Connected Transport experts is to educate policymakers, businesses and citizens about the opportunities and challenges arising. This can be achieved through sharing best practices which facilitate the co-creation of our common future in urban and rural areas”, explained Dr Nikolas Thomopoulos, chair of the Action.

As the main aim of the Action is to identify, review, develop and evaluate framework, sustainability has been at its centre. The AV trials database, began by WISE-ACT in 2017, is one of the most widespread databases in this field, and aims to underline the connections of Autonomous and Connected Transport with sustainability. Alongside the WISE-ACT Glossary, the WISE-ACT Atlas will be the two main outputs produced by this Action.

Last June, WISE-ACT hosted a session at Urbanism NEXT Europe, in which experts discussed how sustainability and road automation could co-exist in future Urban transport. Through this session, WISE-ACT was able to highlight that in spite of difficulties, technology can be employed to meet wider policy goals like sustainability inclusively.

“Our Action activities have highlighted that despite the challenges, it is crucial to offer the opportunities for engineers and IT experts to collaborate with experts in the social sciences and humanities. The WISE-ACT webinars have been a particularly rewarding experience for Early Career Researchers and those based in Inclusiveness Target Countries, where such silos are still dominant”, added Dr Tibor Petrov, the Science and Communications Co-ordinator of the Action.

Going forward, the Action’s next conference is being planned for the EU Connected and Automated Driving Conference, where hopefully, further conclusions on automated transport and ethical consideration such as sustainability can be drawn.

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