IMAGINE a quiet, sleepy Scottish island. Imagine the hills, the scenery and the sea. Think of the friendly locals and the close-knit community. And then imagine cars driving themselves around the windy roads, or perhaps a few robots serving tourists in the seaside cafes. It might sound like an idea firmly in the realms of the ridiculous, but this vision is something one MSP thinks could bring Scotland world fame and massive investment.

According to Glasgow Provan MSP Ivan McKee, Scotland could become a leader in automation by mounting a full-scale island experiment to test the technologies of the future. The Scottish Government should make a “moon shot statement”, he told the Sunday Herald, and pledge to transform one of its communities with tech advances like self-driving cars and economic redesigns such as introducing a citizen’s income.

“Somebody at some point should make a moonshot statement, at senior government level, that says we’re going to take a city, or an island – which would be really interesting – and make it self-driving,” he says.

“You’d need to think of an island that doesn’t have a huge number of people, or a huge number of vehicles, which is self-contained.

“Once you’ve made that statement, it then allows you to start bringing in investment, worldwide, and people who want to be part of it. You can then set up some kind of industrial hub to work on it.”

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Countries around the world are already gearing up for the latest industry disruptors ushered in by the technical age, and the future of car travel is high on the agenda. But while the concept of electric, driverless cars could solve environmental and safety problems, they could also put a lot of people out of work.

McKee believes Scotland could find solutions to these problems with a major island experiment and help make global advancements on the software used to run the technologies of tomorrow.

“I’ve had Scottish companies come to me and say they’re already working on this, they’re building sensors for autonomous vehicles, or they’re building some other aspect of it, so they’re already plugging into a supply chain,” he says. “We’ve got stuff here that we need to build upon.

“If any island came forward and said ‘we want to do this’, they’d become world famous. It would become a tourist thing, like a theme island.”

So just how feasible is it? And what kind of technology would we see on an automated island? We got Angela Haggerty to take a look.


The term ‘automation’ broadly refers to a range of new technologies expected to transform the way society works.

Advancements in computer and internet-based technologies have led to leaps in artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, which could make a significant impact on everything from how world economies operate to how families run their homes.

The prospect of driverless cars demonstrates how transformative automation could be. In just this one area, automation could completely overhaul physical infrastructure and chunks of the labour market. There could be no need for lorry, taxi or delivery drivers in years to come.

Indeed, it’s not only changes in the car industry that could hit sectors like delivery services: Amazon has been busying itself for years testing drone technology. While people may be more used to associating drones with bombs, big tech firms like Amazon are drawing up serious plans to use them to provide superspeed delivery services at potentially much less cost.

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And, of course, as AI and robotics technology progresses, companies like Amazon may find themselves with little need for warehouse staff.

However, while a loss of jobs and incomes is a huge conundrum, optimists would point out that getting technology to do all the boring jobs would free humans up to focus their energies on more creative, intellectual pursuits, thus making people happier in the long run.

On top of transformative technologies disrupting the nuts and bolts of the economy, financial technology (fintech) could drastically change the way people bank and understand money – it could even cease to be a physical thing.

Meanwhile, the ‘internet of things’ is a whole different ball game: imagine teabags re-ordering themselves because the internet-connected kettle is smart enough to understand when stocks are running low or the milk is running out. In fact, imagine a connected kitchen doing its own shopping, or bathrooms that can ask the family robot to come and give them a clean. Nothing is out of bounds when it comes to automation, but equally, nothing will be left unaffected by it.


SELF-DRIVING CARS: This is one of the fastest moving technologies at the moment, and if it really takes off it could lead to noticeable changes in infrastructure. According to McKee, one of the big problems with electric vehicles is owners often charging them at the same times and overloading electricity systems. He believes that if cars became automated, they could drive themselves to warehouses to charge themselves overnight, allowing for more efficient energy systems to be built. Automated cars would be ‘connected’ technologies, meaning they could ‘talk’ to other cars, or traffic lights, in order to avoid complications and accidents.

HOME APPS: If you had a connected smarthome, you could control it with a smartphone. It would basically be like using the remote control to turn any appliance in the home on or off, adjust heating or lighting, and observe activities in other rooms, if you want to get a bit Big Brother with it.

CAT: No, not robotic cats (although that could probably happen) - City Aquatic Transportation (Cat) is basically an automated ferry acting as a taxi. While they could be of more practical use in cities, they would be a great tourism magnet as part of a connected island, and an ideal place to try them out over a period of time.

VIRTUAL REALITY: VR is already popular in the gaming world, but its uses could extend beyond that. For example, virtual meeting rooms could be created, allowing participants to feel as though they’re actually in the same space as others. With any luck, it would render the hell of a video conference call obsolete, even if people do look a bit silly wearing their VR headsets. For island dwellers, it could be particularly useful.

LASER COLLAR PET TOY: It wouldn’t be fair for humans to have all this fun with automation and leave the pets out, and some clever minds have already created a toy for pets that switches itself on an off intermittently to keep them occupied. Automation island could become home to the world’s happiest cats and dogs.



Population: 160

Interesting fact: Gigha waved goodbye to private land owners when the community bought the entire island in 2002

Pros: The community owns the island, which could make it easier to enact dramatic changes to daily life

Cons: The small population may not be a large enough sample size for a thorough experiment


Population: 10,000

Interesting fact: Skye is connected to the mainland via the Skye Bridge

Pros: Skye is already a popular tourist spot

Cons: Its close connection to the mainland and busier back-and-forth traffic could cause confusion between traditional and autonomous vehicles


Population: 6,500

Interesting fact: A community buy-out in 2010 saw locals take over a forest previously owned by Sir Richard Attenborough

Pros: It has relatively close connections with mainland Scotland, making it accessible for tourists

Cons: Bute has a large over-60s population, which could mean a lack of tech savviness among many of the locals


Population: 30

Interesting fact: The tiny isle has a history as a sacred site and is now owned by a Buddhist community

Pros: Its close proximity to Arran makes it accessible to tourists and perhaps temporary experiment dwellers

Cons: The privately-owned island, with a small population, has a lack of existing infrastructure and services