Festival partner DWF will offer a glimpse into the future of transport, and the business opportunities it presents, during two fascinating Festival sessions. The law firm's head of transport says change is coming - and soon.
WE HEAR a lot about driverless cars and drone delivery.
But they can seem a long way off when sales of even electric cars are stalling, and your deliveries are more likely to arrive by pushbike.
Jonathan Moss well understands frustration at the lack of progress. His firm, DWF Law, reported that two-thirds of company decision-makers felt the UK’s current transport infrastructure network inhibited international trade, following a survey of 180 chief officers last year.
But Moss, who’s the company’s head of transport, marine and trade, is certain we’re on the cusp of a transformation.
“Transport as we know it will be radically changed in a decade,” he says. “It feels like we’ve been talking about this technological revolution for a long time but it’s probably already more ‘over-the-line’ than the general public realises.”
That will be music to the ears of DWF’s survey respondents. Some 81% of them agreed that updating regulation to support the deployment of smart transport technology – such as driverless vehicles, smart motorways and drones – would offer the UK a competitive advantage over other countries.
It will be fascinating to see which innovations become commonplace soonest, says Moss. Driverless cars have captured the public’s imagination most easily, with ‘platoons’ of self-driving trucks just one step removed.
But Moss says autonomous ships might yet cause freight to be shifted off the roads and into coastal waters. Rolls Royce is aiming to have remote-controlled vessels with a reduced crew operating locally by 2020, and predicts unmanned autonomous ocean-going ships to be on the seas within two decades (and five years before the sale of diesel and petrol road vehicles is banned in the UK).
The thought of huge vessels being tossed around on the oceans with no-one at the helm might sound alarming.
But Moss argues: “Most sea collisions are caused by human error so it’s hoped and thought that crewless ships will improve safety. AI for ships could dictate more efficient sea routes so that vessels can avoid poor weather, and could diagnose mechanical problems in vessels. We could also see magnetic docking.”
Public acceptance of these technologies will be key to their implementation, however. And that’s where the law comes in.
“What will make the difference to the timescale these modes of travel or technologies become accepted is the legal framework,” says Moss. “There needs to be suitably permissive laws to allow the development to take place.”
And the first accident involving an autonomous vehicle – be that a car, boat or plane – promises to be a watershed moment.
Rather than scrutinising driver actions, insurers will focus on manufacturers, servicing companies, and professional advisers who implement transport systems, he says.
“When vehicles aren’t operated by humans, if they go wrong it will be because of faults in the technology itself. Instead of talking about negligence, you’re talking about product liability.”
All businesses – not just those in the transport or logistics sectors – need to stay abreast of technological advances to ensure they use the quickest and most cost-effective modes of transportation, says Moss.
“Transport is undergoing so much change that we want to be at the leading edge of developments and able to notify our client businesses of what these are,” Moss says.
DWF is the official partner of the International Business Festival’s Future Transport Day, on June 19. And it will release its latest analysis, focusing on emerging technology in commercial transport across four key global regions, at the event in Liverpool.
The company will present the feedback from 250 transport businesses – from automotive manufactures and logistics companies to haulage tech suppliers and smart roads specialists – about the challenges they face in an environment of major disruption.
DWF’s head of automotive, Caroline Coates, will take part in a Futures Stage discussion on driverless transport on land, sea and air. Other Future Transport Day sessions assess the prospects of hyperloop systems superseding rail, and the UK’s place in a future space transportation industry.
But Moss says investment is essential not just to turn these grand ideas into reality but to make the immediate improvements many Festival delegates will be crying out for.
“Transport facilitates business. In order to revitalise the economy in certain parts of the north of England, it’s essential to invest in transport infrastructure,” he says.
“The duration of journeys between Manchester and Liverpool, or Leeds and Hull, is totally disproportionate to those on north-south routes. There needs to be a far more fluent and fluid network to enhance commercial activity in the north.”
* Delivering the goods: Harnessing technology to drive future commercial transport - Knowledge Hub, June 19. Hear the latest developments in global transport, the business opportunities they present and discover the findings of DWF's global transport technology report.
** Logistics in a box: Delivering across borders & operating in the UK - Knowledge Hub, June 21. Enjoy a step-by-step guide to overcoming the legal and regulatory challenges of operating in the UK for hauliers and commercial fleet owners and discover the findings of DWF's global transport technology report.
Shipping images: Rolls Royce