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Sunderland City Council: 5G Connected and Automated Logistics

The pioneering 5G Connected and Automated Logistics (5G CAL) pilot is the first in the UK to evaluate the potential of next generation technology in overcoming barriers for a more efficient future for last mile logistics. The pilot focused on understanding and utilising ground-breaking 5G technology in an operational automotive environment, to develop the UK’s first zero emission automated logistics HGV. The Council are now planning and delivering a series of projects to develop the technology and establish a testbed for connected and automated logistics in the North East.

The challenge

Though it is widely accepted that automation can improve the logistics sector and make it more sustainable and environmentally sensitive, the technology has not yet been tested in an operational automotive environment in the UK. There is a need to test the technology to understand the barriers that must be overcome to implement such technology, what needs to be implemented to ensure the technology runs safely and to confirm the efficiency, functionality, sustainability and environmentally sensitive solutions are all possible in a working environment.

The solution

The 5G CAL pilot secured a total of £4.9 million, including £2.4 million from 5G Create, part of the UK government’s £200 million 5G testbeds and trials programme (5GTT) from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The consortium for the pilot comprised of the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA), Sunderland City Council, Vantec, Newcastle University, Coventry University, Connected Places Catapult, StreetDrone, Terberg and Perform Green.

These innovative partners have spent 23 months understanding and utilising pioneering 5G technology in an operational automotive environment for the very first time in the UK, to develop the UK’s first zero emission automated logistics HGV.

Sunderland City Council and North/Nokia were selected for the pilot due to their expertise, leading smart city infrastructure, devices and support that the project required. Central to the project was having the 5G connectivity to enable the removal of the safety driver from the process, allowing remote teleoperations to overcome abnormal situations. Working in partnership with Sunderland City Council and North/Nokia, the project team implemented a private small cell network at the trial route between Vantec and Nissan that leveraged the power of 5G. The vehicle’s teleoperations system uses next generation technology connected to a private 5G network.

The impact

It is widely recognised that Connected and Automated Logistics (CAL) has the potential to provide significant cost benefits to UK manufacturing. This funded pilot is delivering huge strides forward in CAL, proving last mile delivery for an autonomous HGV up to 40 tonnes on a private road built between Vantec and Nissan with automated logistics in mind. The 5G CAL pilot builds upon indoor and outdoor Auto Guided Vehicles (AGV) capability to unlock the next key innovation challenge for Nissan last mile logistics. This has huge implications for the future of the industry and many other advanced manufacturing environments.

Following further private road testing, expansion onto public roads is likely to have significant economic impacts once high market penetration is achieved.

In the long term, Connected Automated Logistics Vehicles (CALVs) would produce transformative and significant reductions in operating costs for logistics firms, and these changes would be accompanied by evolving social and environmental impacts.

Successful last mile implementation on primary delivery routes and wider public road networks would, for example, have transformative impacts on logistics costs, reduce accidents, reduce CO2 emissions and boost e-commerce.

By continuing to explore and develop the technology in Sunderland as a market leader in CALV technology, presents opportunities for the wider North East region and the UK overall, such as additional high skilled jobs and CALV export potential

How is the approach being sustained?

A world leading Connected and Autonomous Mobility & Logistics hub in the North East of England will create new business models incorporating smart factories and intelligent supply chains. Funding opportunities are currently being explored to catalyse further research, development and testing to pave the way to the next chapter in the 5G CAL project. 

The next phase of development for these innovative technologies, ‘5G CAL 2’, would result in successful deployment, at scale, in a more challenging environment where the vehicle encounters traffic lights, roundabout and bridges. These dynamic environments present a whole range of new challenges and will help to accelerate the development of these technologies to commercialisation.

The 5G network would be expanded and new vehicle to infrastructure technology installed to enable the development of the autonomous and teleoperation systems on a more demanding private road route – an essential step in realising the transition of CAL technology onto the open road.

The long-term ambition is to unlock the multiple benefits of automated freight in supply chain logistics. 5G CAL aims to underpin the future efficiencies and showcase the scaleup of end-to-end automated logistics, extending opportunities for UK manufacturing through:

  • increasing resilience in supply chains
  • improving competitiveness
  • attracting investment
  • advancing net zero for heavy goods vehicles
  • skills development and high value job creation in tech/data activities as well as teleoperative roles.

Lessons learned

Automated last mile logistics is one of the major innovation challenges, especially in the automotive sector with its synchronous and highly complexed supply chains. Achieving the success that the Council have seen with the 5G CAL pilot, took a consortium of experts to pool significant knowledge and innovative ideas to break new ground over a period of almost two years. They faced numerous challenges along the way –from teleoperations fine tuning to optimum camera placement to maximise visibility and maintain the safest possible operating environment – and through a combination of reliable 5G technology through Sunderland’s smart city infrastructure and partnership with BAI communications, as well as human intervention from talented drivers, programmers, analysts and more, they overcame any obstacles faced.


If you would like further details, please contact the North East Automotive Alliance.