In Times of Austerity — Grow Your Own!

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We’re heading for a colossal skills shortage, says StreetDrone CEO, Mike Potts.

Here at StreetDrone towers, we’re busy at the coalface making it faster, easier and safer for cities to deploy, learn and scale autonomous urban vehicle trials. Since our business was established five years ago, we’ve grown continuously and consistently, but while our progress might appear serene, it has in fact been achieved against a backdrop of a profound skills shortage of capable engineers.

Our CEO, Mike Potts has reflected that if Britain genuinely wants to prosper as one of the best places in the world to develop, test and sell connected and autonomous vehicles, then we’ll need more – far more – of the brightest brains studying the subject. But at present we’re heading for a colossal skills shortage.

It’s easy to harp about the reasons and failures that created this situation, but we like to think of ourselves at StreetDrone as a positive and solutions-orientated company. So we’ve been taking a look at one solution to the crisis. And we think this particular solution deserves wider recognition and support for the contribution it is making to addressing the engineering skills shortage in the CAV sector.

For over two decades, Formula Student has inspired undergraduate students from hundreds of universities to bring academic skills to life to compete to design, build and test a single-seater race car. On average, 20 universities every year have participated in a huge engineering endeavour which culminates in a competition event where their work is judged alongside their peers.

In 2018, we worked with Formula Student’s organisers, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) to create a new class of competition for autonomous vehicles called FS-AI so that our particular focus had its own dedicated stream within Formula Student. It was an immediate hit and at the very first event, we witnessed student driverless entries from KTH Stockholm in Sweden and UAS Augsberg in Germany.

The government quickly recognised the importance of the FS-AI programme and stepped in alongside the industry and the IMechE to provide funding through a partnership with the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.

The intention was to build a generic AV that students could manage and operate through a series of competitive tests in order that the barrier of high costs to build their own platform would not prevent Formula Student entrants from immersing themselves into the rapidly developing arena of driverless mobility.

We could see that this initiative had enormous potential to catalyse student engineering interest in autonomous vehicles. So we rolled up our sleeves and plunged in. At Silverstone in July 2019, the FS-AI ADS-DV, part-funded by CCAV and Innovate UK, took to the track and successfully became an integral element of the Formula Student proposition for the first time.

Our tech director, Ian Murphy, helped to support the systems integration and the installation of the compute platform on the FS-AI ADS-DV. StreetDrone engineers Efimia Panagiotaki and Fionán O’Sullivan wrote the ROS (Robot Operating System) interface software on the vehicle, allowing communication between software and hardware.

As well as adding autonomous vehicles to the range of tests, competitions and trials out on track, driverless mobility also became quickly integrated into the static elements of the event. Our own engineer Holly Watson Nall took up the task of Head Judge for FS-AI and helped adjudicate the university team presentations that spanned all aspects of AV deployment from the algorithm logic adopted by the students to their plans to move from prototyping to mass production in order to gauge the student’s fundamental understanding of why they chose certain designs for their hardware integration and software stack.

In addition last summer, the Silverstone event also marked the introduction of Real World AI, a programme challenged students to speculate on the technical challenges that autonomous cars must overcome on real roads, including a wide range of creative problem-solving from the students, including vehicle-to-everything (V2X) infrastructure plans, sensor hardware industry analysis and pedestrian behaviour prediction.

The next cohort of Formula Student participants are due at Silverstone in July from no less than thirty institutions around the world. And among them, the AV competition entries have doubled year-on-year and twelve teams are due from locations as far afield as Egypt and Australia to take on the 2019 winners from Edinburgh University for the FS-AI mantle.

So have we seen students from this incubator find their way to StreetDrone’s doors just yet? Well, yes. Some of our existing staff found their way into the business from precisely this route. So for our part, we need no convincing that Formula Student is delivering on its promise as one way of answering the chronic lack of budding AV engineers. All that may get in our way this year is a pesky virus…..

To find out more, get in touch with StreetDrone at

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