The Bath Digital Festival is now in its fifth year and this year it ran for 5 days from 17 to 22 October 2017. The festival showcases the thriving scene of anything digital in Bath and beyond, from digital marketing, programming, gaming, data, cyber security and diversity. Each year it’s run by a team of volunteers, overseen by the Bath Digital Festival organisation and supported by an array of sponsors. This year 75 events took place and the festival welcomed 2000 attendees who celebrated all things tech-related, with seminars, demonstrations, hands-on workshops and social events.
The theme of the festival “Tech for everyone” appealed to me. I contacted the organisation in May and presented several ideas. After several iterations and brainstorming, I decided eventually to go for only one project:
A conference on driverless cars also known as CAVS (Connected Autonomous Vehicles). I am grateful to the person who told me that I would not have the time to run more than one event.
The French philosopher Roland Barthes had an influence on me. He explained in his book “Mythologies” that we identified cars as being more than machines and that they are major cultural creations. I started to read a lot about the subject and began to send emails around, to be honest the first missives sounded like spams and my returns were not very successful. With time and experience, I got better at crafting my messages and I managed to enrol some really interesting speakers for my event.
The emerging technology of self-driving cars (if ever implemented to our cities and roads network) will very likely disrupt the way we consume transport. Moving away from the individual car ownership model to 'Mobility as a Service (MaaS)' - a solution like Uber but without a driver. Personally it was the perfect example of how robotics will affect us all and it fitted with the festival’s theme.
Level 4 and level 5 on the autonomous vehicle scale (no driver at all), is when a computer makes all decisions once a navigation target and some basic rules have been set. CAVs have plenty of sensors, some examples are:
- Cameras are used for scene interpretations and convey functions like emergency breaking.
- Radar uses radio waves to determine velocity, range and angle of objects and can “see” behind obstacles.
- Lidar to measure distance using laser light and can scan more than 100 metres in all directions, generating a precise 3D map of the car’s surroundings and GPS localisation
As they are constantly broadcasting, autonomous vehicles exploit loads of data. According to Intel, driverless cars will use 4000 GB of data everyday/per car. Requests to this data will be common for both live and historical movements, from law enforcement, lawyers in civil disputes, general traffic management etc. If traffic runs more smoothly with fewer delays this data accessibility will impact our notion of privacy.
Governments and car manufacturers apostle that driverless cars will improve the efficiency of the road network, save up to 6 working weeks a year driving time, reduce pollution, cause fewer deaths and injuries. However, computers are also often associated with bugs and being hacked, raising questions such as:
- How can a computer be a better driver than the average driver?
- How good does an autonomous vehicle need to be?
- What is safe?
- Will the public respond enthusiastically to this technology?
Also with the potential of becoming the first mass deployment of robotics, a set of rules will have to apply where an accident resulting in a fatality is unavailable.
- Self-driving cars must prioritise human life over property and animals.
- Self-driving cars must do the least amount of harm if put into a situation where hitting a human is unavoidable.
- Self-driving cars must not discriminate based on age, gender, race, disability, or any other observable factors.
How do you decide who should die in an accident? To explain this fascinating topic, the experts were:
- Chris Connolly, Lawyer, researcher and consultant on cyber laws. Chris provides advice to national governments, the United Nations and large corporations on the legal and policy issues raised by new technologies.
- Andrew Hawthorn, Deputy Head of Engineering at Altran. Altran develop critical software over multiple domains including air traffic control, defence systems, automotive and rail.
- Dr Miriam Ricci, Researcher at Centre for Transport and Society, UWE. Miriam's ongoing research projects include VENTURER (http://www.venturer-cars.com/), focusing on the social research into stakeholders’ expectations and public understanding of CAVs.
- Cllr Mark Shelford, Cabinet Member for Transport, Highways, Sustainability and Resilience of BANES.
The event was part of Digital Intelligence day theme. It took place in the city centre, at The Bath University Innovation Centre. Nearby, Tesla was exhibiting their latest model at The Vaults at Bath train station.
I learnt a lot during this project. If the benefits of CAVs are identified, the change of this disruptive technology is associated with major socioeconomic transformation, privacy and security issues. I also learnt about how to execute an idea. It was hard work and time consuming but I enjoyed it greatly and I would advise anyone tempted to run an event or a workshop to apply to the Bath Digital Festival next year.