Ireland’s smart cities testbed: an interview with Future Mobility Campus Ireland

6 min


c. Future Mobility Campus Ireland

The Future Mobility Campus Ireland (FMCI), a fascinating automotive testbed on Ireland’s west coast, hopes to build on already strong links in the country’s technology supply chain to deliver new findings for emerging solutions in road and aviation mobility. Quadrant Smart chats to Russell Vickers, CEO, to dig deeper into the testbed!

The intriguing creation of Shannon’s Future Mobility Ireland smart cities testbed is hoped to capitalise on an already buzzing Irish technology sector, its CEO tells Quadrant Smart.

Russell Vickers, formerly of Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), which is the lead partner in the campus, is leading the Future Mobility Campus Ireland (FMCI) project adjacent to Shannon Airport on Ireland’s west coast.

Russell Vickers, CEO, Future Mobility Campus Ireland

The campus is a not-for-profit organisation created to test mobility solutions including in Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) and Electric Vehicles (EVs) in the Shannon-Limerick metropolitan area.

“Whereas Ireland mightn’t necessarily be known as an automotive powerhouse across Europe, we do have a lot of technology companies that are operating in this space,” explained Russell.

The campus CEO highlighted companies partnering with the campus, including Shannon-based JLR as the lead partner of the project. Cisco, based in Galway, and Valeo, a French car component supplier, in nearby Taum, are amongst the handful of stakeholders in the public, private, and academic sectors who can collaborate to test emerging technologies on the 12km of public roads in the campus.

You take a step back, and ask the question: how anyone is going to make any money on this?

“We came together with the idea of if we were going to go carte-blanche on technology on what the city of the future would look like, what would we want to put in there from a technology point of view,” explained Russell. “Whether it’s looking at things like autonomy, connectivity, data management, or how we’re going to actually process all of that data.”

The campus will look to further build Ireland’s supply chain in the emerging automotive sector and help smaller firms create a business model to encourage investment, Russell adds. “You take a step back, and ask the question: how anyone is going to make any money on this?” he said.

“That’s part of the motivation. Companies can come in and see areas where they’re providing a type of service, and they could tweak it slightly, or it fits perfectly, and this is a new business model, essentially.”

Shannon’s unique testbed

Shannon, Co. Clare is a new town that originated from Shannon Airport when built in the 1960s, as a purpose-grown town to support the airport. The Shannon Group, which owns and operates the airport, also operates the Shannon Free Zone, where the campus is based.

Campus overview c. Future Mobility Campus Ireland

All of the land of the industrial zone is owned by Shannon Commercial Properties – but its public accessibility allows companies to turnaround test applications more quickly and test technologies on real-life scenarios and passenger movement.

“All the roads are laid down, there’s fibre nearly everywhere – but we’ll probably add some to complete it,” Russell said. “Then we can start hanging equipment from lampposts, putting in roadside units, and then basically propagating all of that back to a central control point.

“From that point of view, if you’re a radio maker for roadside units, you can come in, put your radios up, and within the next day you could be testing those – whereas to run that with cities, it can still be quite a long process to get to that stage where you can hang a unit off a lamppost, for example.”

Farm-to-fork renewables?

A range of emerging automotive technologies will be tested in the campus, Russell notes, but the unique confluence of public players being able to access the area provides major potential for findings.

EV charging, for example, has already established the technology required for infrastructure requirements and the physical factors going into charging itself. What Russell and stakeholders in the campus want to figure out, he says, is the data on how those charging points are utilised by the public.

“I think there’s a general yearning in the public [for sustainable mobility],” Russell argued. “We’re all focussed on climate change, and what can we do to reduce our carbon footprint –but it’s pretty difficult for people to make the choices and know that they’re making the right choices.

“What we’d like to prove out of this is how you can absolutely trace your energy footprint: you’re charging your EV, and you only want to charge it off renewable resources, for example. You could prefer the full end-to-end process; a farm-to-fork style model where you know that the energy in your vehicle is completely carbon neutral, for example.”

It isn’t just the passenger car the campus is keying in on, either. Jaguar Land Rover will be using its Shannon office to collaborate with the smart campus on vehicle testing, involving the assistance of setting up sensors and infrastructure, such as smart junctions, for CAV assessments in 2021.

Users of FMCI will also have access to 450km of roads throughout Ireland for testing. Part of the European C-ITS connected roads project, sensors for testing will be established over the coming two years, on roads stretching from Drogheda to Dublin and further south to Cork.

“The good part about that is there’s a joined-up thinking there to make sense for the testbed to extend into that,” Russell says. “If you’re an OEM, you could be running with the training wheels around the free zone on the 12km stretch, and as your product develops, then you can do the longer highway trials.

“That’s two projects that we’re putting together in tandem, to leverage each other.”

Aviation

Clearly, FMCI’s proximity to Shannon Airport provides boundless potential for testing emerging air technologies, including drone usage and air taxis.

Drone c. Jonathan Lampel, Unsplash

He explained: “One way or another, drones are coming. Whether it’s the Amazon deliver, or when you look at Uber Robo-helicopters and Hyundai.” The commonalities between technologies of road autonomy to autonomous aviation vehicles means that the FMCI can capitalise on Vehicle-to-Infrastructure capabilities on the campus, as well as managing data.

“What’s compelling is that we want to figure out the airspace management of that, with how all of these drones that could be buzzing around your head like some sci-fi movie ties in with commercial aircraft and air space,” FMCI’s chief executive said.

“That’s a very important safety-related matter, but that’s something that needs to be worked out.

“There are regulations starting to roll out in the UK and Europe which will start to manage this – but I think this is where the rubber hits the road on this, where we want to really figure out how these things work together.”

The project is funded under the Department of Business, Enterprise & Innovation’s Regional Enterprise Development Fund, administered by Enterprise Ireland.


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