The oldest connected cars, legislation, and the future

Eloy set a new record for the world’s oldest connected car event on Sunday 5th November 2023. We supplied our EloyEvents app and software to the RAC’s London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, and as the cars are 2 years older now than they were in 2021 when we first did the run, we beat our own record! The timing of this and the story behind the Veteran Car Run is very relevant to what’s happening with modern cars today and how Eloy fits into current innovation.

What is the RAC Veteran Car Run?

Each year the Royal Automobile Club hosts a rally from Hyde Park in London to the Promenade in Brighton on England’s South coast. The cars taking part are veteran, which means they are very old. The definition of a veteran car is that it was built before 1905, although in some cases the date is pre-1919. Although they don’t have seatbelts, cigarette lighters, and infotainment screens, and many of them have natural air conditioning due to a lack of roof or even windscreen, they can be modernised with phone applications held by passengers or mounted via clamps which means the human driver is “connected”.

Red Flag
Celebrating the removal of the requirement for a red flag

The Veteran Car Run originally took place because the legal requirement to have a “safety walker” in front of cars was removed. When motorised vehicles were first added to our roads, the Red Flag Act was introduced. This meant that a person waving a red flag had to walk 60 yards in front of any motorised vehicle, somewhat defeating the potential of the motorcar: the strength and power of a motor was limited by humans’ ability to walk.

Then in 1896, the Light Locomotives on the Highway Act removed the need for the safety walker, and in 1897, the Veteran Car Run first took place to celebrate the evolution of the motorcar.

Modern context

The timing of the Veteran Car Run this weekend has an added dimension. In the King’s Speech taking place on the 7th November, it is highly anticipated that legislation will be introduced to enable a pathway for self-driving vehicles to exist on our road network.

In a similar way to the safety walker, self-driving vehicles are constrained from further evolution due to how our legal system defines who is responsible for a moving vehicle. At present, self-driving trials require a safety driver so wider deployment can’t happen. The safety driver is someone who sits behind the wheel acting as the responsible person. For self-driving to be possible, the safety driver needs to be removed and responsibility shifted to the software driving the car.

Much like the evolution in the late 19th century, where horse-drawn carts were replaced by the motorcar, we’re at a point in history where human-based decision making can be replaced with automated systems and artificial intelligence. This not only applies to cars that can drive themselves but also the transport systems and infrastructure that will support them. This Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) sector is where Eloy is active with our own car coordination software.

Wider benefits of connected and automated mobility

The 1896 Light Locomotives on the Highways Act improved human mobility. Motorcars can travel longer distances at greater speeds and can carry more cargo than horse-powered transport. Whilst over-reliance on the car has some negative impacts, it has allowed our economies to grow and improved our standard of living. People can travel to find work and we can manufacture more complex products by pulling in skills and materials from further away.

The oldest connected cars, legislation, and the future
Eloy has connected some of the oldest cars in the world

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has just released an updated report highlighting the upcoming benefits of CAM technology. By 2040, it is expected to provide £66bn in benefits with a £35bn contribution from reduced journey times. Traffic and congestion are major issues on our current road network but the introduction of new technology including self-driving vehicles can start to improve our lives in new ways. Artificial intelligence can make safer and faster decisions than humans which mirrors how motors can push or pull more weight than humans.

Eloy and multi-vehicle coordination

Eloy fits into CAM in that we are building new ways to coordinate the movement of vehicles to reduce road congestion. We are focused on human-driven vehicles at present because they currently make up 100% of road vehicles but expect a strong application into self-driving vehicles in the future. Our specific use cases target large events where lots of cars are trying to get to and from the same place at the same time. Providing our software to a growing number of events is key to the commercialisation and iterations of our own software.

We believe that journey times can be reduced by around 20% with our multi-vehicle coordination for event traffic management. Our real-world trials with the Zenzic CAM Scale-Up programme earlier this year found a 17% journey time improvement and we know there is still room for improvement. This is because AI can make faster and more complex decisions about what cars need to do than humans can individually. Computer systems can combine data and make system-wide decisions.

Back to RAC Veteran Car Run

A final word on the Veteran Car Run. The EloyEvents app, which we provide to attendees driving to an event, must be easy to use with very little hassle. With connected human drivers, we need apps or other machine interfaces to provide suitable instructions for drivers to follow. As well as being easy to use, it requires other encouragement to use it. Saving time and reducing road emissions are a big benefit and we hope a key motivation for drivers.

We continue to work with events, drivers, and vehicle occupants to improve this experience! We’re looking forward to catching up with the drivers in the coming weeks.

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