The Transport Systems Catapult (TSC) and Oxbotica claim to have completed the first-ever trial of a driverless car in the UK.
The vehicle demonstration took place on pavements around Milton Keynes train station and business district. It marked the conclusion of the LUTZ Pathfinder Project, which has been developing the technology for the past 18 months in order to explore how vehicles interact with pedestrians and other road-users.
The LUTZ project team has been running a number of exercises in preparation for the demonstration, including virtual mapping of Milton Keynes, assessing public acceptance, conducting the necessary safety planning and establishing the regulatory environment with the support of Milton Keynes Council.
The TSC is one of ten ‘elite technology and innovation centers’ established and overseen by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.
Oxbotica: mapping out the future
The technology behind the vehicles, know as Selenium, was created by autonomous software company, Oxbotica – a “spin-off” set up by Oxford University academics.
The Selenium system was developed to be “vehicle-agnostic” – meaning it can be applied to cars, self-driving pods and warehouse truck fleets.
Supposedly, the technology does not rely on GPS to operate, which allows it to transition between over ground or underground environments easily.
Instead, Oxbotica says Selenium uses data from cameras and LiDAR (Light Detection & Ranging) systems to navigate its way around the environment. LiDAR technology uses light sensors to measure the distance between the sensor and the target object. Supposedly, LIDAR produces very accurate, high resolution 3D data that can be used to map out urban environments and detect objects.
The Selenium system is also set to be deployed to eight shuttle vehicles in Greenwich, London, as part of the Greenwich Automated Transport Environment (GATEway) project.
The shuttles will be used by members of the public in Greenwich in a six month demonstration starting in early 2017.
Vehicles that talk
The race to develop cars that ‘talk’ is well and truly on.
Vodafone also recently announced that it has started working on technology to see vehicles ‘talking to each other by 2020’.
In a press release, the company said it has started early testing of LTE-vehicle-to-everything (V2X) – a technology that allows cars to communicate with their surroundings – on a private test track in the UK, which it will trial on roads in Germany.
This is part of the UK Cite project, a 30-month project made of up consortium members including the likes of Huawei, Jaguar Land Rover and Siemens.
This group says it will equip over 40 miles of urban roads and motorways with the technology to allow connected vehicle trials by 2017.
Britain at ‘the forefront of innovation’
It seems that the UK is proving to be quite a hotbed for testing driverless technology, largely due to its relatively liberal laws on the testing of driverless vehicles – unlike say, the US, where public road testing of driverless cars is only legal in eight of 50 states.
A large number of companies are already working on driverless car technology in the UK, including Google and Uber.
The UK government has also shown its support by giving funding from its £100 million Intelligent Mobility Fund (albeit an announcement under previous Chancellor, George Osborne), and via funding from Innovate UK.
In a statement regarding the trials in Milton Keynes, business and energy secretary, Greg Clark suggested that “Today’s first public trials of driverless vehicles in our towns is a ground-breaking moment and further evidence that Britain is at the forefront of innovation.”
“The global market for autonomous vehicles presents huge opportunities for our automotive and technology firms. And the research that underpins the technology and software will have applications way beyond autonomous vehicles.”