The blue dot on my Google Maps app indicates that the complex of buildings approaching on the left is my final destination. I marvel anew at this now relatively dated technology and its ability to get me from A to B.
When I enter the site and realise the solutions tested and validated here take intelligent transport to a whole other level, it becomes clear that I am a simple fool to still be impressed by GPS alone. Hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles and wholly autonomous vehicles all undergo testing at the site, with various degrees of confidentiality – hence the tight security levels.
MIRA Ltd is focused on creating the future of advanced vehicle and systems technology. It provides services around product engineering, testing, consultancy and certification, working towards developments such as Smart Electric Vehicles and Smart Low Carbon Vehicles.
Former home of RAF Lindley, a buzzing hub of operations during World War Two, the 750 acre site is located in the dead centre of the UK – and largely within a mobile signal dead-zone. The Ministry of Defence remains a stakeholder, but with so much space and technology at its disposal, MIRA is the landlord to a number of other private and public-affiliated companies. These include household name manufacturers, insurance companies and unique interest organisations.
Amongst the latter is innovITS, the UK’s centre for excellence in transport telematics and technology. Established in 2005 with funding from what was formerly known as the UK DTI – now department for Business Innovations and Skills – the objective is for innovITS to become the UK gateway for expertise in intelligent transport.
innovITS ADVANCE offers a fully controllable and connected ‘cityscape’ test track, which enables the testing, validation and demonstration of new innovations. The environment, a genuine first in being entirely independent from any specific manufacturer, gives precise specification of road conditions and communications access and denial.
A tour of the track confirms its huge potential as a significant test-bed for intelligent transport, from the range of junction types, road surfaces and signalling mechanisms, to real-time communications installed through site-wide wireless, GPRS and 3G mobile connectivity points. Exterior safety and collision-avoidance solutions could be enhanced just as interior in-car entertainment, or ‘infotainment’ applications could be put through their paces.
Parts of the outer track are already in full use, as an orange Lamborghini’s hypnotising circuits testify, but the finishing touches are now being put in place on the inner circuit.
The challenge for ADVANCE and for intelligent transport more widely, is in the communication of what it is and what it can do for different engineering and technology organisations, and organisations at the intersection of the two. Too often technology specialists can accidentally deflect interest by adopting alienating jargon and acronyms. This is a significant space for improving the safety of vehicles and roads globally, for generally making urban life less hazardous.
A number of experiential improvements can and inevitably will happen along the way thanks to the ubiquity of connection and the rapid development of sophisticated electronics. For the investment to start paying back and for Intelligent Transport developments to shift up a gear or two, ADVANCE needs to be embraced by a range of technology communities and stakeholders, before, during and after work is carried out.
My mobile 3G flickers back to life as I leave the site, but I snub Google Maps for the return journey. It’s not all that special really.