Paul Zanelli is Director of Strategic Ventures at TRL. TRL is non-profit distributing foundation whose mission is to make transport safer, cleaner, more affordable, more livable and more efficient. TRL acts commercially but any profit that is made is reinvested back into making transport better. Paul runs TRL’s software business and the Smart Mobility Leaving Lab (SMLL). He has a PhD in neural networks and through his career has operated at the interface between science and the commercialization of science. He likes this difficult, exciting and challenging world of trying to get technology and science into real commercial businesses.
You were involved in the establishment of building the Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) testing facility in Greenwich, London. Can you please tell us more about it?
The story goes back to my former role as CTO at the Transport Systems Catapult. I led the development of a technology strategy for intelligent mobility that looked at what the UK needed to ensure it remained at the forefront of the Intelligent Mobility market. One of the conclusions was that the UK needed a center for operational trials and evaluation. The key being “operational”. To mature technologies up the technology readiness scale we need to test systems in a real-world environment. At the time, TRL was leading the Gateway project in partnership with DG Cities, the arm of RBG responsible for implementing its smart cities strategy. TRL and DG Cities had developed the concept of a Smart Mobility Living Lab (SMLL) in Greenwich that aimed to deliver the need I had identified. In May of 2016 the government put out a call for evidence. In the response to the call for evidence the government cited 2 key inputs, a proposal from the automotive council and one from TRL. In Autumn 2016 the treasury announced a £100m investment for CAV testing facilities. SMLL was one of the 4 projects selected. SMLL is a collaborative research environment for public and private sector organizations, where entities can test their connected and automated vehicle technology safely and responsibly on public and private roads. Further investment happened in a data hub and another off-road test bed for interchanges. The government then put in place an organization, called Zenzic, funded by the UK center for CAV as well as the industry, which is aiming to provide some oversight to make sure all of these facilities come together to make an offering for the UK that can compete in the global race for CAVs.
Who are the key partners and key stakeholders?
There is a project to build the SMLL facility, and then there is SMLL Limited which is the company we have established to run the facility over the longer term. We are still in the process of completing the build, but we are just about finished. The consortium that came together to build the SMLL includes: TRL, DG Cities, London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), Cisco, Cubic, Transport for London (TfL) and Loughborough University London (LUL). As part of our first year, we have also established an innovation community that currently includes: Appyway, Aviva, Bestmile, Hastings Direct, Honda R&D UK, Humanizing Autonomy and Immense Simulations.
This is a varied mix of corporates and SMEs looking at different aspects of the future mobility ecosystem. How has this benefited the programme?
We are still in very early days but were very keen from the start that we were not coming at this from the point of view of the vehicle or infrastructure, but from a service perspective to change the way people and goods move in the city. This requires a partnership between national government, local government, small companies, big companies – from a wide range of industries. If you look at our initial community, it includes an insurance company, an OEM, network and infrastructure providers, local and national authorities and forefront technology startups. For us, the key is to work with the city to understand the needs and what may be the incremental steps on the way – this is both the long-term and short-term roadmaps.
What has the project achieved so far?
SMLL is close to completion, though the final stages of the build programme have been impacted by COVID-19. It includes 24 kilometers of instruments roads, just under 300 cameras, 36 connected traffic lights, 40 V2X units, 200 access points, environment monitoring, a dedicated fiber network and 5G. We have 2 control rooms at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (QEOP) and Woolwich. We also have a data hub to manage and process large volumes of data, open architecture vehicles and virtual model for validation. We are now two weeks from taking possession of our main headquarters in Woolwich. We have also conducted our first pathfinder trials of an open architecture vehicle on the streets, linked to a virtual model, with infrastructure monitoring. This trial integrated technology from a range of sources, including Bestmile’s Fleet Orchestration Platform.
What are the plans for the future?
We are about to launch a more expansive innovation community model with more members and are working on a range of projects including level 4 autonomy service trials, a mobility Hub in Greenwich, freight distribution to hubs and last mile delivery and fleet transition to EV.