In October 2016, the Transport Systems Catapult was responsible for putting a self-driving vehicle on UK public streets for the first time. The demonstration of a UK developed autonomous driving system marked the conclusion of the LUTZ Pathfinder Project, which began developing autonomous technology in 2014.
The vehicle demonstration took place on pavements around Milton Keynes train station and business district. A trained engineer remained in the vehicle for the duration of the trial, ready to take back control if required and to give further reassurance to the public, but the pods navigated entirely by themselves.
In the preceding months, LUTZ Pathfinder pods had been driven in manual mode with a human driver in control, while the project team mapped the environment and tested the control system’s ability to negotiate its way along the designated trial routes.
The project is a British success story, carried out by the Transport Systems Catapult (TSC) on behalf of the UK Automotive Council and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (formerly the Department of Business Innovation and Skills).
The autonomous control system used in the LUTZ Pathfinder public demonstration was developed by the University of Oxford’s world-leading Oxford Robotics Institute and utilised an array of 19 sensors, cameras, radar and Lidar scanners.
The project has also involved the development of prototype vehicles designed and manufactured by Coventry based automotive innovation firm RDM. The demonstration vehicle used in October was created by Oxford University Spinout company Oxbotica for the purposes of testing ORI’s control system.
The LUTZ programme had three main objectives:
• Seeing the technology work within the environment
• Understanding how suitable self-driving vehicles are for urban use.
• Gauging sentiment of both the passengers and the pedestrians that will encounter the vehicle
Public sentiment around self-driving vehicles is crucial for their advancement – everything from gauging a passenger’s sense of safety to the likelihood of a pedestrian deliberately disrupting a vehicle’s passage.
The TSC has monitored public reaction in the city, and has also carried out local and national surveys. Results from the first of these suggested that Milton Keynes’s early exposure to the pods has already shifted perceptions in that town, with 61% of adults living there saying that they would be interested in using self-driving vehicles for short-hop journeys. This compares with 39% of adults nationwide.
Milton Keynes Council has also provided invaluable support for the project, not only in agreeing to host the trial, but also in assisting with the regulatory framework for the project to proceed. The project has also enhanced the national and international reputation of Milton Keynes as a leading smart city and transport innovator.
Even before the LUTZ Pathfinder project had been launched onto the pavements, several of the project members (the TSC, RDM and Milton Keynes Council) had signed up to be partners in the larger-scale UK Autodrive programme, taking place in Milton Keynes and Coventry. UK Autodrive will trial a fleet of up to 40 pods, alongside ‘regular’ cars equipped with Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) technology, provided by Ford, Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Motor’s European Technical Centre.
With the LUTZ Pathfinder public demonstration now complete, the pod-related part of UK Autodrive will use the increased number of vehicles available to examine the extent to which connected pods could form the basis of a genuine public transport service in the future.
Beyond the technology demonstrations, UK Autodrive will also examine some of the ‘bigger picture’ issues, such as legislation, insurance, communications and cybersecurity requirements, the future scalability of the technology, public attitudes to self-driving vehicles and potential business models for the wider rollout of the technology.
The TSC is now looking to capitalise on its unique position in having the environment, the platform and the vehicle to conduct further research and trials. A team of engineers has now started building an automated pod test and integration facility as part of our Technology Strategy for Intelligent Mobility, which will enable other organisations to work with the Catapult on developing new self-driving vehicle technology.
Ultimately, there are thousands of scenarios that need to be played out, regulations that need to be addressed, and insurance policies that need to be rendered watertight before self-driving vehicles become a feature of everyday life. But with the TSC facilitating a more collaborative approach between government, industry and academia, and cities such as Milton Keynes, Coventry and London opening themselves up to serve as trial locations, the UK has begun taking self-driving vehicles out of the laboratory and into the real world.
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Project status: Complete
Project partners: UK Automotive Council; Department of Business, Innovation and Skills; RDM Group; University of Oxford Robotics Institute; Milton Keynes Council