The crucial issue of road transport innovation has graced the pages of CORDIS publications several times (not least through this year’s dedicated Results Pack on connected and automated driving) and we at CORDIS obviously keep a close eye on projects working on this topic, but attending the H2020RTR conference was a real treat, since it gave us the chance to meet project coordinators in person and listen to first-hand accounts on the tangible results being achieved by their respective projects on the ground. At times, it felt a bit like opening a window onto the future of road transport, with hot-button issues such as “automated driving”, “platooning” and “integration of green vehicles” leaving the spheres of fantasy to become realistic outcomes, complete with measurable results and foreseeable marketability.
Scanning the Horizon (Europe)
The conference also gave us the opportunity to scan the horizon: namely Horizon Europe in this case, thanks to a series of opening speeches delivered by key stakeholders from the European Commission (Jean-François Aguinaga, Head of Unit at DG RTD and Herald Ruijters, Director at DG MOVE) as well as INEA Director Dirk Beckers - all offering participants hints of what to look out for under the next iteration of the key EU research funding programme. Unsurprisingly, road transport innovation will feature prominently among the themes being supported by the EU going forward. Perhaps an over-arching theme of this conference was just how far we had come in terms of not only accepting new road transport technology in our everyday lives but also how much European countries had started embracing it, as Jean-François Aguinaga explained in his speech: “The situation now: tens and tens of [electric] vehicles are on our roads, carmakers are now gearing up to launch new electric car models, forecasts predict up to 1 million battery electric engine plug-in hybrid vehicles sold next year in the EU – consolidating the bloc’s position as the world’s second-largest electric car market”.
Including citizens in the innovation process
While attending the different seminars organised throughout the event’s duration, it became increasingly clear that the issue of technological maturity was less at the forefront of discussions, with the main questions now revolving around not just integration into the power grid but questions of social integration: notably, how could public authorities better incorporate green vehicles within their urban infrastructure and ensure public acceptance and proper use of green transport solutions. Ensuring society and citizens embrace road transport innovation actually lay at the heart of the keynote speech delivered by Biagio Ciuffo of the European Commission Joint Research Centre: “it is impossible that we enter a pathway in which we disrupt road transport without engaging people from the beginning” he emphasised. “We have to be very careful because transportation is probably the first sector which will be automatised – and when you automatise a sector you have to be very careful […] not to put at risk equity, democracy and other principles which are very socially sensitive”. This interconnection between innovation and public uptake of new technologies will no doubt become an increasingly important part of future projects – and hopefully CORDIS will get to witness how this has taken place during the next H2020RTR conference!