Fishnchips (you can tell I am a Brit).

They all could be one word as they flow together. But many of us in the U.K. are beginning to see the need to split that single pronunciation. The reason is that many of the early benefits from connectivity, for example reduced congestion, safety, smarter parking, and better information about road assets, can come from human-driven cars, not just automated ones. And in a country where the average vehicle age is nearly eight years, they need not be new vehicles either.

In the U.K. we now have many local city projects using data from vehicles—harvested from On Board Diagnostics II (OBD2) devices (we call them dongles), pay as you go insurance devices, fleet management units’ cameras, smartphones, and the vehicle’s sensors. As you might guess, windscreen wipers and fog light data are quite useful in the U.K., as is road condition and temperature. But we can also look at emissions and faults in the vehicle’s pollution control as a policy tool to deal with Low Emission Zones. In the U.K., the fleet management and insurance industry are mature, giving access to new sources of data, as there is a clear business case for users (they save real money).

Although vehicles take many years to be replaced by a buyer, smartphones and in-vehicle devices are changing much more rapidly. This means new data sources are growing every day from our 33 million existing U.K. vehicles, as well as new vehicle leases (no-one in the U.K. buys a car anymore). This mix of data sources allows connection today.

We have also done much work to look at cellular connection. The business case for what you call Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSCR) and we call ITS-G5 is not proven for a city in the U.K., and the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) announcements add to the “Am I buying Betamax” discomfort many U.K. city engineers feel about DSRC. Using 3G and 4G we have been able to do many—but not all—of what we call “day 1” co-operative services well. We have tested Green Light Optimum Speed Advisory (GLOSA) using cellular, and it works well.

I’ve taken this retrofit approach to the extreme and collected data from a smartphone in a 1914 Model T Ford (built in the U.S., so it has its steering wheel on the wrong side). And of course, colourwise, it is black. But it still can give me position data I can use to improve traffic signal settings and is rather good at detecting potholes in the road too. It’s the U.K.’s oldest connected vehicle—maybe even the world’s?

Many innovative businesses are starting up to exploit this seam of untapped data as well as the established players such as INRIX exploring new uses of their old data. The vehicle makers in the U.K. (yes, we still have some despite BREXIT) are also tapping into data, for example on road condition. We have some new parking projects that combine sensing spaces, navigation, and payment in a single click.Newer cars fitting android auto, for example, mean the cellphone is on most of the time, and background apps can provide data without the driver pressing or doing anything.

This means that U.K. drivers can see early benefits from connectivity—they can park more easily, be warned of queues, and get through signals on green, but cities also see a benefit—data about road condition, weather, missing traffic signs (we get them stolen a lot, especially the signpost in Scotland to a town called “Lost.” Yes, really), emissions, and queues at signals. In the U.K., resources for cities and towns are tight, so making the most of what we have, such as Split Cycle Offset Optimisation Technique (SCOOT) adaptive signals, is a must for us (and I suspect the US too after my holiday there this year—as a traffic engineer, I don’t stop looking at roads while on vacation).

Don’t get me wrong; I see huge additional benefits from automation. But to get people to buy into it, we need to show we can get the basics right first. Hence, I think we need to break up a lovely partnership, and talk of connected and then (pause a little) autonomous vehicles.

What is the view over the pond?

Recent Blogs

Stay informed and connected with industry insights, company news and personal stories

Protect Your Community with GRIDSMART Protect

Safety is the most fundamental need in your intersections. But existing in-ground detection and approach-based systems do not do enough, especially for vulnerable road users. That’s why Cubic Transportation Systems is introducing GRIDSMART Protect....

GRIDSMART Releases Version 19.12

Dear Valued Partners, Earlier this month, we shared a preview of GRIDSMART System Software Version 19.12 in a webinar that many of you attended. We're happy to share that 19.12 is now in general release and available for download. We encourage you to update all of...

Featured Event


After much deliberation, and with much remorse, GRIDSMART has decided to cancel INTERSECT this year. The safety of our employees, distributors and customers is of utmost importance.