The first driverless cars are about to hit UK roads, with plans to roll out electric passenger driverless vehicles to the roads of Royal Borough of Greenwich, London, under the GATEway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) project.
The cars’ design is inspired on the driverless Ultra PODS being used at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, however, they will not need rails to drive around the capital’s south east borough.
Initially, only seven pods will be launched, driving around the O2 Arena in the Greenwich Peninsula as of July.
The Ultra PODS have been operating at Terminal 5 for nearly five years, and have already carried 1.5 million passengers and completed 3m kilometres of fully automated operation. According to Heathrow, the pods have also removed 70,000 bus journeys a year from the airport’s roads and the equivalent of 100 tonnes of CO2 a year
The roll out is being conducted under close collaboration between Heathrow Enterprises, Oxbotica and Westfield Sportscars, who will lead the pods makeover to adapt them to navigate the streets of Greenwich.
In a statement, the companies said that Westfield will act as the vehicle integrator and manufacturer of the pods, responsible for the design and testing of the vehicles and "ensuring that, where possible, they are manufactured in accordance with the current type approval requirements".
Heathrow Enterprises will be responsible for vehicle software engineering, while Oxbotica will be deploying its vertically integrated autonomy solution, which includes mapping, localisation, perception and trajectory planning, to enable the safe operation of fully driverless shuttles in Greenwich.
It will also implement an innovative cloud-based shuttle management system, enabling the shuttles to operate as part of a synchronised, self-governing ecosystem, complete with smartphone booking applications, monitoring and reporting.
Greenwich’s driverless cars will be inspired on Heathrow’s Ultra PODS, however will not need rails to navigate around the streets of the Royal Borough.
Driverless cars were first cleared for UK testing in June last year, together with the release of the world’s first code of practice for driverless cars, developed by the Department for Transport in consultation with the UK Autodrive Consortium, Venturer and GATEway consortia.
The GATEway project is an £8 million project jointly funded by Innovate UK, which also aims to test driverless vehicles in Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes at a later stage.
Led by TRL, the scheme will investigate public perception, reaction and engagement with a range of different types of automated vehicles.
Other trials set to take place in the project include autonomous valet parking and automated deliveries.
Professor Nick Reed, academy director at TRL and technical director for GATEway, told CBR: "TRL is delighted to have three prominent and respected organisations join the consortium, further emphasising the UK’s position as a leader in automated vehicle technology.
"The new partners will play a vital role in enabling us to conduct research that will help us really understand how these vehicles should be deployed and operated as part of the urban mobility landscape.
"This is a research project, so we are bound to encounter issues related to operation of this new type of transport. Clearly, there might be issues around interactions of the vehicle with other road users and challenging weather conditions, but in this living lab environment in Greenwich, we can address these issues and safely accelerate vehicle development.
"If the trials prove successful, we expect these iconic vehicles to become a familiar sight in many cities around the world."
The UK government has openly spoken about the benefits to the country within the automotive industry by tapping into the unmanned vehicle race.
In July 2015, Downing Street announced £20 million aimed at the development of driverless cars, in what ministers hailed as a major boost for the British motor industry.
Jonathan Hewett, CMO of October Telematics, told CBR: "The government are creating the right environment to encourage technology innovation but ultimately this will be consumer driven with drivers choosing driver aids or mobility aids.
"The UK Governments approach to encouraging the testing of different solutions will help find the right applications of the technology to benefit consumers and as technology evolves over the next decade or so consumers will start to adopt aspects of the autonomous car paradigm just as we have seen with ABS and lane departure warnings.
"The UK can certainly lead both in terms of technology and showing how critical services such as insurance, roadside assistance and parking can all be improved by the next generation of vehicles.
Last week, 11 major insurance companies, including Allianz, Zurich and Axa have come together to help regulate the UK’s driverless car insurance industry.
The alliance, led by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and Thatcham Research (TR), has been formed to consider issues relating to automated driving on UK roads, particularly concerning insurance and liability.
Commenting on today’s news around the Greenwich roll out, a spokesperson at ABI told CBR: ""Getting driverless cars onto the UK’s roads has the potential to dramatically reduce deaths and injuries, while improving the transport options for a wide range of people.
"The insurance industry is committed to playing its part in bringing this about, and we are pleased to see continuing progress and investment in the trials which are also a key part of this."
Alan Owens, head of technology and communications at London based law firm DWF, said that from a legal perspective there is still a good deal of work to do before the technology in these types of innovative trials can move to more widespread adoption.
Speaking on today’s news, he told CBR: "This goes far beyond road traffic laws – technical standards, cybersecurity and insurance are also important considerations.
"The UK Government, through its dedicated Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, wants to make fast progress and intends to revise the regulatory framework by the end of next year.
"A key part of the GATEway Project is to understand technical, cultural, societal and legal challenges and barriers to adoption, so we expect to see evolution rather than revolution, with regulations adapting to the technology, and user experiences as it develops. Today’s announcement is of course an exciting stepping stone, in what is expected to be a low risk environment."
The announcement of the first driverless vehicles to take to London’s roads has come a day after the Netherlands becoming the first nation in the world to deploy this type of automotive solutions on its own public roads.
The WePod is being rolled out next to a lake in the town of Wageningen in central Netherlands. Currently driving autonomously at five miles per hour over a stretch of 200 metres, the pod has a capacity for up to six seated passengers.
The project will soon be used as part of four mile public transport route in the town as the Netherlands also prepares to roll out the first driverless semi-trucks at the port of Rotterdam this April.
In California, US, the driverless car market seems to be falling into a governmental crisis with Google threatening to take its driverless vehicles off the Californian market if the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) does not change its regulation on unmanned vehicles.
Dr. Chris Urmson, Google‘s director of self-driving cars, said in a public speech at the Sacramento State University that on the basis of the DMV’s proposed regulation being discussed, which requires a fully licensed human operator behind the wheel, driverless cars will not be available to California.
He said: "We need to be careful to make the assumption that having a person behind the wheel will make the technology more safe."
Overall, the global market for driverless could reach up $42 billion by 2025, according to Boston Consulting Group.