The North East leading the way in 5G and connected and automated logistics

The North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) and partners Sunderland City Council, Newcastle University, Vantec, Coventry University, Connected Places Catapult, StreetDrone and Perform Green, have secured funding for a 5G enabled connected and automated logistics (CAL) pilot and proof of concept.

This £4.9m project will receive £2.4m from 5G Create, a £30 million open competition combining British creativity with innovative new uses for 5G, as part of the wider £200 million 5G testbeds and trials programme (5GTT). The project will deliver a huge stride forward in CAL, proving last-mile delivery for an autonomous HGV up to 40 tonnes on a private road. 5G is essential as it will uniquely enable the removal of the safety driver from the process, allowing remote teleoperations to overcome abnormal situations.

Paul Butler, CEO of the North East Automotive Alliance, said: “The North East is a beacon of automotive productivity boasting high levels of automation and one of the most dynamic workforces. Automated last-mile logistics is the next major innovation challenge in our continual drive for operational efficiency. This project will take 5G enabled solutions out of the testbed into an operational manufacturing environment.

“Through our industrial base and the unique assets of our road transport sector, the North East offers an ideal location to support the design, development, and manufacture of CAL solutions. Our vision is that this will be the catalyst for establishing a globally unique centre of excellence and operational test facility for CAL here in Sunderland.

“This will provide a stimulus for solution providers and industry to design and develop CAL solutions which meet specific industry challenges related to the factory of the future and intelligent supply chain – driving operational efficiencies and improving productivity.”

Mike Potts, CEO, StreetDrone believes logistics can be one of the first commercially viable autonomous services and this project provides an ideal testbed for the roll-out of a UK-developed autonomous product.

He said: “The reality is that autonomous cars are likely still many years from production. However, using the technologies that we’ve already developed in an industrial logistics setting such as this makes sense in a much shorter timeframe. I can see how the development that we’ll be doing as part of the project will quickly scale to many other industrial settings, where reducing cost and increasing safety are critical factors in profitable operations.”

Patrick Melia, chief executive, Sunderland City Council said: “Now is the time for a regionally focussed investment to automate logistics for manufacturing, unlocking efficiency, improving competitiveness, attracting investment and boosting exports. This project represents a major opportunity to support and accelerate economic growth, creating an exemplar that will encourage further private and public sector investment.”

Daniel Ruiz, CEO of Zenzic, said: “The UK connected and automated mobility roadmap to 2030 has been created with over 150 organisations across the UK. It highlights the critical importance of telecommunications to unlock the potential of self-driving vehicles in our society. It also highlights the fact that freight applications are essential early stage demonstrators of technologies and business models that can increase safety, clean growth and inclusion. This essential project proves the power of next generation telecommunications and accelerates us from testing towards large scale commercial deployment.”

Phil Blythe, Professor of intelligent transport systems, Newcastle University said: “This is an important project that plays to the strengths of both the university and the region, it signals our intent to be a significant player in future transport systems. The regional capabilities and the 5G testbed that will be established by the project will provide a solid foundation for the North East to continue to be an innovative proving ground for smart transport technologies to meet our objectives of tackling decarbonisation, levelling up and growing the economy through the productivity gains that autonomous last-mile logistics can deliver. This is a strategic project of national Importance, aligns with DfT priorities, and my team are delighted to be part of it.”