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Exclusive: UK and Singapore – Transforming Transportation Collaboratively Part 2


This is the second part of a two-part article that covers the growing partnership between the UK and Singapore in the transportation sector.

Part 2 of the article explores the challenges of implementing autonomous vehicles, how electric vehicles will be a boost for climate conservation efforts and of the immense benefits brought about by the strong partnership between the UK and Singapore.

Where man once baffled at the mere possibility of flying, we have now reached a point where self-manoeuvering vehicles are increasingly commonplace.

Transportation has vastly changed over the years and game-changing developments in autonomous vehicles and future mobility have put the UK at the forefront of many of these transformations.

This is not surprising considering its reputation as a global hub for future-focused creativity and opportunity. The KPMG 2019 report ranks the UK as third globally for innovation, disruption, and technology. Intelligent transport is one of the spaces where their strength is evident.

Professor Phil Blythe
Professor Phil Blythe, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department of Transport and Professor of Intelligent Transport Systems, Newcastle University

OpenGov had the opportunity to speak with Professor Phil Blythe, Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) for the Department of Transport (DfT) and Professor of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) at Newcastle University, UK.

He was recently appointed Vice President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), UK.

Professor Blythe was in Singapore last week as he led a delegation of UK transport experts at the ITS World Congress.

Blythe has built his expertise in ITS since the late 1980s and is widely regarded as a pioneer in the fields of road pricing and electronic tolling technology.

As the CSA to the DfT, he helps bring the science and engineering evidence that underpins UK transport policies and the delivery of transport initiatives across the country.

Much of this relies on significant cross-government cooperation in science, engineering, technology and policy issues in strategic areas such as intelligent transport, connected and autonomous vehicles, electro-mobility and smart cities/big data/IoT agendas.

“There is a real ambition to work more closely with Singapore and bringing together our experience and expertise to solve real transport problems that will make a significant difference to people’s lives.”

Professor Phil Blythe

Cybersecurity in Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS)

While the possibility of fully/semi-autonomous vehicles and driverless cars cruising down city roads is exciting, cybersecurity remains a key concern for regulators around the world.

It is a sobering reality that the digital networks with which these cars connect and communicate could be vulnerable to hacking and deliberate targeting by third parties and malware that compromise safety as well as the delivery of service.

Blythe confirmed that discussions at the ITSWC held in Singapore last week were centred on arriving at an international consensus as to what the issues were and how they should be addressed and regulated.

The UK’s delegation at the conference brought together government, business and academia. These included representatives from the DfT as well as businesses and catapults such as connecting places and satellite applications. Over the course of the week’s conference, core issues in ITS cybersecurity, regulations and infrastructure road-mapping have grabbed the headlines as much as the products themselves – such as the air-taxi demonstration at the Marina Bay that was jointly run by UK’s Skyports and Germany’s Volocoptor.

Electric Vehicles Leading the Charge for the Next Industrial Revolution

Electric vehicles (EVs), often referred to as electro-mobility, are an important sector for the UK and its climate-resilience ambitions. Legislations are in place that will require the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. This goal has been taken up with high importance by all government departments as they undertook research and policy delivery changes that support decarbonisation. The DfT has certainly taken up the rallying call with its ambitious ‘Road to Zero Strategy’. This mandates that by 2040, all new cars and small vans must have zero tail-pipe emissions. EVs are being explored as a practical solution to meet zero-emission transport needs.

Leading the government’s efforts to switch to electromobility, the DfT and the Department for Business (BEIS) jointly established the Office for Low Emission Vehicles. Since its launch, the Office has been successful in growing EV sales and the roll-out of electric vehicle charging points, while looking at ways to encourage companies to invest in the UK’s EV sector. These include international tie-ups to produce batteries.

Around the world, a lack of global capacity in battery production is one of the main barriers to the uptake of EVs. Blythe pointed to the fact that the UK’s transition to EVs alone would take up the entire world’s current lithium-ion battery manufacturing capacity and this offers an opportunity for a modern-day industrial revolution.

Through its Industrial Strategy, the UK co-funds large industrial and academic projects to develop the next generation electric drives and powered electronics needed for EVs. This has been done through the ‘Delivering the Electric Revolution’ project and the ‘Faraday Challenge’ which develop the next-generation EV batteries.

The Faraday Institution focuses its research on advanced battery chemistry and manufacturing techniques with the view to partnering with countries around the world in building Giga Factories.

All in all, the UK has established itself as a leader in electromobility with a clear strategy to ensure the development of technologies to make this happen. Parallel to this, the DfT is initiating and supporting work to understand consumer and business behaviour to be better placed with policy to support the adoption of EVs.

“The challenges in the UK are not unique and there are real opportunities for Singapore’s industry and researchers to work with the UK to move this sector forward,” stated Blythe.

Supporting a Low Carbon Energy Future

In addition to helping meet the UK’s Net Zero emissions target, EVs stand to play an important role in helping the economy transition to low carbon and renewable energy sources.

Blythe assured that decarbonisation is a high priority item on the climate action and sustainable development agenda for the UK. At the same time, he cautioned that decarbonisation efforts in some sectors, such as agriculture and urban housing, will be harder than compared to sectors such as the transport industry.

Decarbonisation offers real opportunities within the transport industry for new technologies and new energy vectors such as electrification, hydrogen for heavy good vehicles, biofuels and synthetics fuels.

The CSA pointed out that similar opportunities extend to off-road transport such as the marine sector that, in the UK is driven by its “Maritime 2050 Strategy”. This long-term strategy includes looking at ways to decarbonise the sector by considering hydrogen, ammonia and batteries as alternative energy providers.

All these transitions towards a more sustainable future are why the UK (along with Italy) will be hosting the 26th session of the Conference of Parties (COP26) at the UN Climate Change Conference in 2020. Blythe offered that this could be a strong platform to evidence the UK’s leadership in climate action and its commitment to working with countries around the world to meet their climate commitments under the Paris Agreement.

Strong Prospects for Continued Singapore-UK Collaborations

“With autonomous vehicles, there is always an ambition to try and do things differently, but it is important to understand technologies well to avoid unintended consequences,” cautioned Blythe.

“The systems and technologies that emerge from the UK’s Future of Mobility Grand Challenge must be user-led and not technology-driven so that they land well and deliver well for all transport users,” he said.

He added that this is keenly shared by Singapore as it sets out on its Smart Nation roadmap.

With both countries committed to developing world-class ecosystems for business creativity and outcome-led innovations, there are many avenues to strengthen existing collaborations and create pathways for new partnerships. Transport is one such area for this.


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