LEVITATE partner in the spotlight

Questions to Wendy Weijermars, SWOV – Institute for Road Safety Research

Q: Please, introduce yourself shortly: what do you do at SWOV and what is your role in the project?

A: Hi, I am Wendy. I am a traffic engineer by education and I work at SWOV for more than thirteen years now. At SWOV I have been involved in a wide variety of projects, for example on road safety forecasts, safety at road work zones, safety performance indicators for roads, projects related to the safe system approach/sustainable safety and studies focussing on serious road injuries. Since July last year, I am research manager of the department ‘infrastructure and traffic’.

Within LEVITATE, I coordinate the SWOV activities and the work related to estimation of road safety impacts. In addition, I lead the Work Package that deals with the ethical requirements that the project must comply with.

I am not the only person from SWOV that is involved in LEVITATE! Other SWOV colleagues that are or have been involved in LEVITATE are (in alphabetic order): Atze Dijkstra, Celina Mons, Diane Cleij, Ellen van der Hijden, Frits Bijleveld, Govert Schermers, Jan Hendrik van Petegem, Lucas Raggers, Kas Kamphuis, Marijke Tros, Michelle Doumen, Rins de Zwart and last but not least Sanne van Gils.

Q: As a partner, how do you contribute to LEVITATE and why did you join the project?

A: SWOV has been involved in many European projects and LEVITATE is not comparable to any of them. At first sight, LEVITATE might not seem the most logical project for SWOV to be involved in, as SWOV focuses on road safety research whereas LEVITATE has a much broader scope dealing with all kinds of impacts of Connected and Automated Transport Systems (CATS). Nevertheless, LEVITATE is a very interesting and relevant project for SWOV. We expect CATS to have an enormous impact on (urban) traffic and subsequently also on road safety. Moreover, as different impacts -including road safety- are interrelated, they should not be analysed in isolation but all together at the same time. That is one of the main strengths of LEVITATE, in my view. Moreover, LEVITATE gives us the opportunity to do multidisciplinary research with a great team of international partners.

Naturally, SWOV is heavily involved in the estimation of the road safety impacts. As part of these activities we planned to carry out a driving simulator experiment to examine how human drivers adapt their driving behaviour when surrounded by CATS. We will have to wait and see when the circumstances allow us to run this experiment.

SWOV is also involved in other parts of the project. We were for example in charge of the development of communication tools like the project identity, including the project leaflet. Moreover, SWOV hosts the LEVITATE website and distributes the newsletters. We were also involved in developing the framework that shows how the different impact are related to each other, just to name a few.

Q: At SWOV, you mostly work on road safety, how do you think LEVITATE will contribute to a safer mobility?

A: My short answer is that LEVITATE can contribute to a safer mobility by better informing policy makers about the road safety impacts of their decisions in relation to CATS.

I think that CATS can have the potential to substantially increase safety. However, the actual safety impacts of CATS heavily depend on choices of policy makers concerning the introduction and regulation of CATS but also concerning for example the provision of dedicated lanes. To be able to take the appropriate measures at the right time, policy makers need to be well informed, i.e. they need to be able to estimate the impacts of CATS as well as the impacts of different policy decisions.

That is exactly our ambition within LEVITATE. The Policy Support Tool (PST) that we are developing aims to enable policy makers and other stakeholders to estimate short, medium and long-term impacts of CATS and to establish the most effective policy pathways for the introduction of CATS to achieve predefined objectives.

Q: What would you mention as biggest risks for the project to deliver what it promised? 

A: In my view, LEVITATE is a very ambitious and therefore also a very challenging project. First of all, it is very difficult to forecast what is going to happen in the future; who could have forecasted the drop in international travel due to COVID two years ago. Developments like CATS are particularly difficult to predict, as these developments cannot be forecasted by extrapolating past trends and are highly dependent on for example public acceptance. It is highly uncertain when and even if fully automated (level 5) vehicles will be dominating urban traffic.

Second, CATS have all kinds of impacts on (urban) traffic and beyond (e.g. land use) and these impacts are also interrelated and depending on policy decisions and other factors. As the impacts are interrelated, they ideally should be forecasted all together at the same time. Preferably,  use cases (urban transport, passenger vehicles and freight transport) should also be analysed all together, as well as possible combinations of interventions.

It is very challenging to forecast all kinds of impacts of CATS in a way in which all interrelations are taken into account and to also implement this in a user friendly PST that can be used by policy makers. Therefore, we will have to make some assumptions and the PST will have some limitations. I think it is important to be very clear about these assumptions and limitations.

Q: Do you think, connected and automated vehicles will change the way how we manage mobility nowadays? If yes, in which way?

A: I think CATS could have an enormous impact on how we manage mobility. To start with, they could have large impacts on mobility patterns of citizens. CATS could also for example lead to less active mobility as urban shuttles might attract people that currently walk or cycle and people without a driving licence will probably be able to drive an automated car. Moreover, I think travel time will be valued differently so people might decide to work further from home. However, policy makers can influence the impacts of CATS by all kinds of policy interventions like regulation, road pricing and economic incentives.

I expect CATS to also have an impact on the use of public space in the city. One might for example not need parking spaces in the city centre anymore as cars could drive themselves to a less crowded place. On the other hand, one might need more places were cars or urban shuttles can drop off or pick up their passengers.

A virtual experience with kids, citizens and stakeholders at the SiW exhibition!

As part of the European Research and Innovation Days the first virtual exhibition took place during three days (22-24 September) to showcase 40 EU-supported research and innovation projects which have the potential to move towards a safer and more sustainable future after the COVID crisis. Slowing down global warming, improving our cities, preventing hunger and drought, fighting cancer were all part of the topics that schools, young people, citizens and stakeholders discovered through the exhibition whose aim was to bring the world of science to the public.

LEVITATE was one of the lucky projects selected to take part in the exhibition to introduce project activities and the results of last 2 years of research on the societal level impacts of connected and automated vehicles. The virtual booth displayed the visual representation of the intended final output of LEVITATE: the Policy Support Tool, as well as the project video and leaflets which attracted hundreds of people during the three days. This new virtual experience challenged the project partners to engage visitors while communicating through avatars, but they still managed to have fruitful discussions with people from all age groups and with different backgrounds ranging from software engineers to university students.

During the exhibition, LEVITATE gave 12 live presentations to offer a hands-on explanation of project activities. While 10 presentations involved a general introduction of the project by several project partners, two presentation concentrated on introducing a specific angle of the project. A presentation given by Anna Craciun (Transport for Greater Manchester) and Martin Zach (Austrian Institute of Technology) explained the local scope of LEVITATE meaning the usefulness of the Policy Support Tool for a city.

After three days of virtual futuristic presence at the exhibition we turn back to the project and try to predict a future where solutions for the appearance of connected and automated vehicles are not only showcased virtually but helping cities to create a safer and digitalised environment in reality.

Predicting impacts of connected and automated vehicles

The main objective of work package 3 of LEVITATE is to develop a broad set of methods for predicting the societal impacts of connected and automated vehicles. This is a multistage process, with the following main stages:

  1. Identify potential impacts of connected and automated vehicles and classify these impacts
  2. Define indicators for the measurement of the impacts
  3. Propose methods for predicting impacts
  4. Convert impacts to a common metric in terms of monetary valuations of the impacts
  5. Propose methods for cost-benefit analysis of policy interventions designed to ensure that societal benefits of connected and automated vehicles are maximised.

The first two of these stages were completed in deliverable D3.1 of LEVITATE. It lists a total of 33 potential impacts of connected and automated vehicles. The impacts were classified along two dimensions:

  1. Their extent in space and time
  2. Whether they are intended or unintended

A distinction was made between direct impacts, which occur immediately and are noticed by each road user on each trip; systematic impacts, which are aggregate impacts occurring within the transport system; and wider impacts, which may originate within the transport system, but mainly occur outside it, in other sectors of society.

Read the whole article, by Rune Elvik »

Science is Wonderful! 2020

The online science exhibition will take place online between 22 and 24 September 2020 and is part of the European Research & Innovation Days.

This year, the event will be open to schools and public from all over Europe through a dedicated online platform, where they will be able to meet and talk to researchers, ask them questions, perform their own scientific experiments, play games and watch an array of online activities in different languages. Particpants can discover the microbes that make our food tastier, take an underwater voyage to experience our cultural heritage, uncover a method to turn waste into wonderful materials and artworks – and many more scientific marvels that have a direct impact on our everyday lives. The flagship event may even inspire visitors – young and old alike – to embark on an exciting, fulfilling career in science!

The event will shine a spotlight on 40 research projects funded by the European Union that impact citizens’ lives and. These projects address the development of solutions to the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath, as well as the priorities that are at the core of both European and Global recovery efforts – such as the European Green Deal.

LEVITATE is happy to be one of the 40 selected projects. Anna Craciun (Transport for Greater Manchester) and Martin Zach (Austrian Institute of Technology) will give a presentation during the virtual event to explain the importance and usefulness of the project’s final product on local levels.

How to register

Schools, citizens and stakeholders can participate in the event for free. Once registered you will be able to access the virtual event by logging in on the website.
Register now »

Further details about the event platform and the programme of activities will be made available in the next days.

About EU R&I days

The EU R&I days brings together world leaders to debate and shape the future of research and innovation. This Research and Innovation days take place in a crucial year. The event follows an unprecedented global crisis. It also takes place just ahead of the launch of Horizon Europe – starting its next research and innovation programme in 2021 – and an enhanced European Research Area. The EU R&I days therefore will provide a unique chance to discuss how research and innovation will benefit the future of Europe and beyond.

System Dynamics

Dr Hitesh C Boghani and Dr Martin Zach co-authored the article ‘System Dynamics’. Owing its heritage to control theory, system dynamics is a modelling technique where the whole system is modelled at an abstract level by modelling the sub-systems at component level and aggregating the combined output. This allows us to use feedback/feedforward from one component to another within the system, which unfolds when output is viewed against time. Let’s delve into this further by using an example of population dynamics.

Read the article »

Amazon is acquiring driverless start-up Zoox

Amazon recently announced it is acquiring the self-driving technology company Zoox, which is developing an autonomous driving system, including vehicles, for the purpose of providing a ride-hailing service. The Zoox vehicle is specifically designed to overcome the challenges of autonomous mobility. It seeks to be autonomous in complex environments, both in cites and highways. The vehicle is bidirectional (both ends can be the front and the back) which is particularly useful for urban trips.

Zoox’s ground-up vehicle focuses on the ride-hailing customer. According to the agreement, the overall mission of the company will remain the same. This could open a whole new market to Amazon once the autonomous driving technology is sufficiently mature for the transportation of people.

However,  some industry analysts think Amazon’s plan is to repurpose the Zoox vehicle for its core business, delivering packages to shoppers.  According to analysts, Amazon could be interested in converting the vehicles into mobile lockers that would stop at delivery sites where customers would pick up the packages. This could serve as an alternative or complement to its existing fleet of delivery vans. Autonomous delivery would fit with Amazon’s plans to deliver more of its packages on its own and to rely less on other delivery services. However, these plans were not confirmed by Amazon.

This is not the first time Amazon invests in self-driving technology. Early in 2019, it joined other investors to support Aurora Innovation, which recently focused on the development of a  self-driving system for heavy trucks. The giant retailing company has also previously used autonomous technology such as self-driving robots in its distribution centers. In 2019, the company ran a pilot on autonomous delivery in the Seattle metropolitan area with small fully electric vehicles. It is  also working on self-piloted drones to deliver small goods to customers’ homes.

The acquisiton of Zoox changes the landscape in the autonomous vehicle business, putting Amazon in competition with Google’s self-driving technology spinoff Waymo, and General Motors’ Cruise autonomous vehicle unit, and increasing the pressure on smaller companies that are building delivery vehicles.

More information: https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-06-26/amazon-zoox-autonomous-ride-hailing

The demand for automated vehicles: A synthesis of willingness-to-pay surveys

Everybody is looking forward to the benefits connected and automated vehicles are expected to bring in terms of less congestion, fewer accidents and less pollution. But will people buy these vehicles? A lot of people love driving and would not want to give it up.

Studies of how much more people are willing to pay for an automated car, compared to a manual car, suggest that there will be a market for automated cars. For an analysis of these studies see: The demand for automated vehicles: A synthesis of willingness-to-pay surveys. Written by Rune Elvik, Institute of Transport Economics.

Watch the second LEVITATE webinar!

What impacts connected and automated driving will have on urban transport, in our local context? Find out!

The second LEVITATE webinar on 11 June was organized around the theme of urban transport and the impacts of automation on local level, brought by two city and transport authority representatives as well as the work package leader (National Technical University of Athens) on urban transport sharing their views.

The webinar was kicked off by Anna Craciun, project lead on LEVITATE at Transport for Greater Manchester, who presented Manchester’s transport vision, CAVs policy and need of innovations due to the COVID-19 crisis. Her colleague Hannah (ITS Engineer) gave an outlook about these future developments mentioning smart junctions and 5G network and video analytics in transport, which can facilitate the use of connected and automated vehicles in an urban context. They highlighted the importance of cooperation between local authorities in order to learn and get feedback from other cities’ experiences on innovations.

The second presentation was given by Professor George Yannis from the National Technical University of Athens who is the leader of the work package on urban transport in project LEVITATE. He presented the initial findings of their research on the specific impacts of automation in urban mobility, specifically on point-to-point shuttles and autonomous on demand shuttle services through impacts such as changes in CO2 emissions and delay time. The preliminary results are available in the recorded webinar. The main output of the project, the structure of the Policy Support Tool has been presented, as well.

Last, but not at least Michael Glotz-Richter from the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen (and member of the Stakeholder Reference Group of the project) gave a mind-blowing presentation about the viewpoint of a municipality on automation in transport. He clearly stated that automation is already here with us more than we would think, giving examples from recent innovations. He also highlighted that operation of autonomous vehicles are more difficult in an urban context, as separation is a challenge in an existing infrastructure. Although, as 90% of road vehicles (replacing individual car ownership) can be replaced by operating autonomous vehicle services, more space is going to free up in our cities.

The webinar induced an active discussion between the audience and the presenters which can be listened to in the recorded webinar together with the above-mentioned presentations.

LEVITATE partner in the spotlight

Questions to Helmut Augustin, City of Vienna

Q: Please, introduce yourself shortly: what do you do in Vienna and what is your role in the LEVITATE project?

A: My name is Helmut Augustin. I hold a degree in Urban Planning. I have been working for the Vienna City Administration since 2004, currently in the Urban Planning Department, Section Mobility Strategies, as head of the Coordination Unit for Digitisation. I cover quite a big range of topics including (geo)data, quantitative analytics, data protection, Intelligent Transport Systems, Automated Driving and Geographical Information Systems.

Q: As a city partner, how do you contribute to project LEVITATE and why did you join the project?

A: I think the most important thing is that we bring in the perspective of a local government and a road authority. I think it is crucial to add this perspective to the discourse about CAVs (Connected and Automated Vehicles) which is otherwise quite industry-driven.

Q: What are Vienna’s views on and vision for connected and automated transport systems in an urban context?

A: We welcome CAVs if they are able to contribute to our smart city goals, in other words, they help us remain one of the most liveable cities. But our general approach is: Autonomous Vehicles must adapt to the needs of the city and its inhabitants, not the other way round.

An important point is how an automated transport system affects space consumption. Space is scarce in cities. It must be used as efficiently as possible. The most space-efficient and energy-efficient transport modes are by far walking, cycling and mass transit. There is an impressive picture by We Ride Australia which illustrates this. Therefore, we see CAVs as complementing, not competing with public transport. So, they should primarily operate in peripheral areas and between, not parallel to major axes of public transport, where current systems of public transport have weaknesses.

Another important point is compact settlement structures, including in rural areas, because CAVs might promote longer driving distances and consequently urban sprawl.

Q: What about safety?

A: This is primarily a topic for the national and European level. Our request is that CAVs must deal with conventional traffic participants, especially in mixed traffic with pedestrians and cyclists. Of course, CAVs must not expect vulnerable road users to be equipped with electronic safety devices.
CAVs shall only be permitted if proven to be significantly safer than human drivers.
CAVs must be safe on their own and responsible for their actions.

Q: Will automated driving require lots of new roadside infrastructure?

A: ITS roadside infrastructure might provide additional layers of safety. But CAVs must never rely primarily on ITS infrastructure, or they will be restricted to use specially equipped corridors only. Our position is that CAVs shall adapt to public spaces, not the other way round. They must be able to deal with the existing traffic guidance facilities.

I believe the possible shortcomings of CAVs at the current state of technical maturity should not be compensated by costly public roadside infrastructure. Rather this is a task for R&D units of automotive manufacturers. In this respect we need to ensure that international standardisation is not at the expense of those who maintain public roads.

Q: And what about dedicated lanes?

A: Cities have made great efforts in reducing barriers in urban space. They have constructed bridges, under- and overpasses, crosswalks and passageways. The goal is a walkable city and attractive public space.  Dedicated lanes, especially those with physical barriers, clearly do not comply with this strategy.

In contrast we can imagine that CAVs offer new opportunities for attractive public space and liveable streets. CAVs follow regulations, are supposed to be safe and eco-friendly. Thus, they might work a lot better in shared spaces than conventional cars currently do, once initial technical weaknesses are overcome.

Q: Will CAV change the way traffic management works?

A: Traffic Management is increasingly driven by algorithms and data. We must therefore increasingly target Navigation-Systems rather than human drivers. As data-based traffic management and decision support requires data, public authorities need access to this data, including in-vehicle generated data. Of course, we only require statistical, fully anonymized data.

My vision would be that dynamic and comprehensive incentive systems manage the traffic flow. Routing is based on the optimum for the whole system (rather than individual optima). System overloads can be detected in advance and minimized. And as already mentioned: AV services complement, not compete with public transport.

Q: When do you think automated transport systems are going to be widespread in urban areas?

A: This is really hard to answer. Let me ask more pertinent questions. The critical point is not when CAVs will arrive in urban areas. Rather the critical questions are: Will cities be ready in time? In which framework will CAVs operate then? Which rules will they follow?

Q: Will Vienna be ready in time for a future with CAVs?

A: We are working on that on different levels and aspects. One important contribution will come from the LEVITATE project. This should help us getting a deeper understanding of the effects different policy options might have.
So being optimistic, I would conclude, “yes, we will be ready in time!”.

Automated vehicles and COVID-19 – what we can learn from it

The COVID-19 pandemic has halted the world nearly to a standstill. There has been a massive economic, social and welfare impact and the common factor is mobility. In LEVITATE, we are investigating the impacts of Connected and Automated Transport Systems (CATS) on our society. COVID-19 has been catastrophic event at world level, but we must learn from this tragedy and understand the implications for CATS era.

Urban Transport
The introduction of point to point, anywhere to anywhere or last-mile automated shuttle services maybe beneficial during a pandemic such as COVID-19 crisis. Highly automated shuttles (level 4 onwards) will remove the need for a driver and hence the risk of infection. Furthemore, a more frequent service may be offered, to accommodate the reduced passenger capacity of vehicles due to social distancing, without the growth in operational costs associated with the driver. In order to minimise the possibility of contamination and the spread of the virus, the supply of antiseptic materials for all users and workers, proper air conditioning and regular disinfection of the shuttles will need to be guaranteed.

Conversely, the reallocation of road space and modal priority, in favour of pedestrians and cyclists, could present a challenge to automated shuttles due to their cautious nature in the presence of these active modes whose movements are hard to predict by automated vehicle technology. This could significantly impact on the speed and overall efficiency of the shuttles, at least until the point where level 5 shuttles offering greater ‘intelligence’ than humans are mature and widely rolled out.

Passenger Transport
A personal passenger car that is manually driven in today’s scenario is no different to a personal automated passenger car in the future scenario. However, in a shared-car model, the vehicle could contribute to the spread COVID-19 if the vehicle is not thoroughly cleaned. Therefore, it will be paramount that the shared cars are cleaned regularly and that it is clear whose responsibility it is to keep the cars clean. It is probable that the shared-car usage will be discouraged in similar circumstances to COVID-19 and perhaps public behavior might shift towards active travel mode and personal car usage. More space allowed for active travel will increase car traffic as capacity for them is reduced. This could be mitigated by introducing staggered shift working pattern (perhaps even combine with alternate days) for those involved in less essential work that cannont be done by staying at home.

As mobility is restricted, there has been natural decline in traffic incidents, but it is arguable that crash severity would increase due to increased speeding. Automated vehicles without ability to alter the speeding behaviours, and associated to reckless driving, will benefit in minimising the safety impacts due to driving behavioural changes resulting from open roads.

Freight transport
During the COVID-19 crisis, major commercial facilities such as shops, markets, restaurants have either shut or people have stayed away due to the health risk. Therefore, demand in e-commerce or food delivery service has increased significantly. For example, Carrefour reported that the delivery of vegetables has increased by 600% during the lockdown period in China [1]. In addition, contactless delivery has become a standard or even requirement in many countries to protect delivery personnel and customers.

This overlaps with the main vision of future logistics concepts, which foresees the automated distribution of goods and even the handover process without human interaction. However, contactless handover requires infrastructure, for example the current state-of-the-art foresees physical internet boxes (supplier side) or white label parcel boxes (customer side). During the COVID-19 crisis, contactless delivery has been performed without either of these. Currently, most people are at home and therefore, the now applied procedure to place the goods in front of the customer’s door, ringing the bell, and walking away works well and (small) failures are accepted by the vendor.

Although the current lockdown and curfew will finally come to an end soon, we are aware that pandemics such as COVID-19 may strike the globe again. Therefore, further developments with respect to automated contactless handover technologies must go on. For a full rollout of automated delivery, we do not know yet who will win the race: automated handover infrastructure or level 5 automated transport. In the end, both will be necessary for automated delivery of goods.

[1] Campaign. COVID-19 media and consumption impacts in China: By the numbers. Retrieved online on 2020-04-28: https://www.campaignasia.com/article/covid-19-media-and-consumption-impacts-in-china-by-the-numbers/458225.