Race for self-driving leadership: UK firsts

Race for self-driving leadership: UK firsts

The race for global leadership in self-driving is well underway and the UK is very much in the lead pack. Here are some of our more momentous recent achievements as the technology comes closer to the road

In March, Project Encode demonstrated transfer of control across three states – manual driving, autonomous driving and teleoperation – in live vehicle tests in Oxford and London.

Backed by the DfT’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and Innovate UK, partners in the project included technology specialist StreetDrone, Internet of Things (IoT) security company Angoka, Coventry University and Oxfordshire County Council.

StreetDrone CEO, Mike Potts, said: “The success of this trial, conducted not in a controlled environment but out on the public highway, is blending autonomous technologies with teleoperation to prove an advanced level of technology readiness that can deliver much-needed efficiencies into the supply chain. This integration provides a ‘ready-now’ solution and it has been a sight to behold.”

A few weeks later, in May, Oxbotica ran the first zero-occupancy, fully self-driving, electric vehicle (EV) on publicly accessible roads anywhere in Europe.

Oxbotica founder & CTO, Paul Newman, explained: “Today, we ran an autonomous vehicle with no driver on open roads in the UK for the first time. It’s a great moment for this business and for the ecology of driverless vehicle technology in the UK.”

The peculiar-looking all-electric AppliedEV boasts radar vision, laser-based sensors and the Oxbotica Driver System, but what is more striking is what it doesn’t have – doors, windows, seats, pedals and a steering wheel. Instead, it features an array of self-driving tech mounted on a small pylon fixed to the centre of the chassis.

The plan is to deploy a goods delivery variant for grocery business Ocado as early as next year. Alex Harvey, Chief of Advanced Technology at Ocado, said: “This is a fantastic milestone and we are delighted to see Oxbotica making significant progress towards zero-occupancy goods deliveries.”

Sam Tiltman, sharing economy and mobility leader at broker Marsh, which arranged the cover, said: “Insurance is fundamental to the advancement of Oxbotica’s trials; this latest exciting development signals growing market confidence in how AVs will revolutionise UK transport infrastructure.”

Perhaps most excitingly, following a successful public road test in April, the CAVForth project will start taking passengers this summer.

Part-funded by the CCAV, five single-decker autonomous buses will operate at SAE Level 4 over the Forth Road Bridge, between Ferrytoll Park and Ride in Fife and the Edinburgh Park Train and Tram Interchange.

Yes, you read that correctly. Full-sized, self-driving buses. Partners in the project include Fusion Processing, Stagecoach, Alexander Dennis and Transport Scotland.

Jim Hutchinson, CEO of Fusion Processing, said. “It’s being registered as a new route, providing a service that wasn’t previously there, and Stagecoach anticipate around 10,000 journeys a week.

“The route includes a mix of road environments – motorway, bus lanes, roundabouts, signalled interchanges – so from our point of view it makes for a great demonstration of capability. There’s the technology side, which Fusion is focussed on, but there’s also key research around public acceptance.

“It will be a very significant achievement – a big thing for the UK which will be noticed around the world.”

Around 500 members of the public have provided feedback on what would make them feel “comfortable and confident in travelling”. As a result, a decision has been made to keep a member of staff on board.

Stagecoach plans to recruit 20 specially trained ‘Autonomous Bus Professionals’ from across its East Scotland business. When the service goes live, these experienced bus drivers will monitor the autonomous system alongside a ‘Captain’, who will move around the bus answering any questions passengers may have.

The buses will be fitted with Fusion’s CAVstar sensor and control technology which, notably, was designed to be a scalable solution – a drive system which could go into pretty much any vehicle, from small cars up to HGV. Just think about the potential.