Situated in the heart of the United Kingdom, the West Midlands has a rich history steeped in automotive excellence. From the early days of manufacturing to the present era of cutting-edge technology, the region has witnessed a remarkable transformation in the automotive landscape. Here we explore the journey of the West Midlands in the automotive realm, tracing its evolution from traditional manufacturing to a hub of innovation in connected and automated mobility. We’ll delve into the region’s commitment to embracing new technologies, the challenges faced by Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) – the regional transport authority, and the delicate dance of building trust with the end user amid growing concerns about public safety.
The West Midlands has long been synonymous with automotive prowess. Dating back to the late 19th century, the region played a pivotal role in the birth of the British automotive industry. Iconic names such as Jaguar, Land Rover, and Austin found their roots in this industrial heartland. The humming assembly lines, and skilled workforce fuelled the region’s growth, making it a global hub for automobile manufacturing.
However, towards the end of the 20th century the West Midlands faced a decline in manufacturing as it was slow to react to the wider globalisation of the industry. Over the last decade the automotive industry has embraced a paradigm shift towards sustainability, efficiency, and connectivity, the West Midlands has adapted to the challenge of the changing landscape. TfWM, recognising the need for innovation, have embarked on a journey to facilitate the traditional automotive stronghold into a centre of excellence for connected and automated mobility.
The West Midlands, with its rich automotive legacy, did not shy away from embracing change. TfWM understood the importance of staying ahead of the curve and actively encouraged innovation. Collaborating with leading tech companies, research institutions, and automotive giants, the region embarked on a mission to create a connected and automated mobility ecosystem.
To catalyse this transformation, significant investments were made in research and development. The region became a hotbed for cutting-edge technologies, with research institutions and startups working collaboratively to push the boundaries of what was once deemed possible. The West Midlands positioned itself as a testbed for new automotive technologies, drawing attention from industry leaders and innovators worldwide.
The advent of automated mobility marked a significant leap forward. The West Midlands saw the deployment of autonomous vehicles, offering a glimpse into the future of transportation. From self-driving shuttles navigating the National Exhibition Centre campus to automated logistics vehicles streamlining supply chains, the region became a living laboratory for the automotive industry.
Challenges Faced by TfWM:
While the West Midlands aims to be at the forefront of automotive innovation, the journey is not without its challenges. TfWM encountered hurdles that required strategic navigation and thoughtful solutions. One of the most significant challenges was building trust with end users and addressing public safety concerns.
As automated vehicles will begin to share the roads with traditional ones, building trust among the public becomes paramount. TfWM plans to use public awareness campaigns, demystifying the technology and highlighting the safety measures in place. Educational programs and interactive demonstrations aimed to bridge the gap between apprehension and acceptance.
TfWM are part of the Horizon Europe project SINFONICA, which explores and measures public perception of these new technologies are vital in understanding what the citizens of the region thoughts and feelings are concerning Cooperative, Connected and Automated Mobility (CCAM), it can not be expected that the public will adopt these new transport modes without understanding them and having their concerns addressed. The West Midlands are one of four European pilot cities with the other three being Hamburg in Germany, North Brabant in the Netherlands and Trikala in Greece.
Public safety concerns loom large as the West Midlands transitions to automated mobility. Accidents involving autonomous vehicles elsewhere in the world have cast a shadow of doubt on the technology’s reliability. TfWM will seek to take a proactive approach, implementing stringent safety protocols, conducting rigorous testing, and collaborating with industry stakeholders to establish industry-wide safety standards, aligned with the recent announcements with parliament in the Kings speech.
The West Midlands, with its storied automotive past, stands as a testament to the resilience of regions willing to adapt and innovate. The journey from traditional manufacturing to a centre of excellence in connected and automated mobility is not without challenges, but TfWMs strategic approach and commitment to transparency will pave the way for a promising future.
As the West Midlands continues to navigate the ever-evolving automotive landscape, the lessons learned from this transformative journey serve as a beacon for regions worldwide. The delicate dance of building trust with end users and addressing public safety concerns underscores the importance of collaboration, education, and a steadfast commitment to shaping a future where technology and transportation harmoniously coexist for the benefit of all.
Picture from vectorjuice on Freepik