Dr Mikela Chatzimichailidou - Associate, Systems Engineering, Integration and Assurance, United Kingdom
Ross Dunsford - Associate Director, Systems Engineering, Integration and Assurance, United Kingdom
This article explores the history of automation in the transport sector and the lessons learned along the way for application going forward; it looks at the similarities and differences between rail and road and discusses how a systems approach to safety can be used to manage the risks emerging from complex, software-based autonomous systems in the transition to a world with self-driving vehicles. The text considers examples and cases of automation, predominantly from the United Kingdom (UK), and draws parallels between road and rail transport.
This think piece comes at a time when the Government (Department of Transport) is exploring the safety implications of higher levels of automation in road transport, while professional institutions, such as the Institution of Engineering and Technology, see value in learning lessons from other modes of transport (e.g. rail) where changes in operational practices have been deployed and even increased safety in the UK.
Looking at the level of automation uptake in the two industries, rail has progressed further than road; the reasons are beyond the scope of this article. However, we can look at how some of the cutting-edge systems-based frameworks and tools used in rail can support future progress in the road sector, helping to ensure safe integration of future technology in a complex operational environment such as road transport, which is very different from rail.