Strong local support for self-driving pods

A pioneering trial of self-driving vehicles in pedestrianised areas of Milton Keynes has attracted largely positive interest from local residents, according to a new online poll carried out by market research company YouGov.

            The independent poll was commissioned by the Transport Systems Catapult organisation which is overseeing the LUTZ Pathfinder ‘pod’ trial, and found that 61% of adults living in Milton Keynes would be interested in using the electric-powered two-seater ‘pods’ for making ‘short hop’ journeys.

            That compared to interest levels of 38% among respondents in the UK as a whole. When it came to people in the national survey who had already heard something about the project before taking part in the survey, the figure rose to 48% – suggesting that familiarity with the trials is helping to improve public attitudes towards the technology.

            “The LUTZ Pathfinder project is trialling the technical capabilities of self-driving vehicles, but it also has an equally important role in increasing public awareness about this technology, and its potential benefits,” said Transport Systems Catapult CEO Steve Yianni.

            “It’s wonderful to see how much the people of Milton Keynes are getting behind the project, and we’ll continue to engage with the public and watch how they interact with the pods as the project progresses.”

            The LUTZ Pathfinder pods have been designed and manufactured by Coventry-based automotive innovation experts RDM Group and are equipped with an autonomous control system developed by the University of Oxford’s world-leading Mobile Robotics Group.

            Up to three pods are being used during the trial, with each one being driven initially in manual mode as it ‘learns’ its environment. Once they have begun to operate in self-driving mode, a trained test driver will remain in each pod for the duration of the trial, ready to take control of the vehicle if required.

            The trial will culminate in a public demonstration of the technology, due to take place in Milton Keynes later this year. Findings from the trial will also be fed into the larger-scale three-year UK Autodrive programme which will involve a fleet of 40 pods as well as regular road-based cars operating in Milton Keynes and Coventry.

The YouGov poll showed that awareness of the project is already high, with nearly one in four adults (23%) in the UK having heard about the trial. In Milton Keynes more than three quarters (78%) of those surveyed had done so.

            The survey also asked some open-ended questions to find out what would make people more likely to use a self-driving vehicle and what concerns they still had.

            For both the national and local surveys, safety topped the list of concerns about the technology in both polls, followed by worries about malfunctions and breakdowns. Low cost of use and proven safety were the primary factors that would make the respondents more likely to use a self-driving vehicle.

            “While the overall attitude of the public towards self-driving vehicles is reassuringly positive, particularly in Milton Keynes itself, there are always understandable concerns around new technology,” Steve Yianni said. “So a key part of this trial will be to demonstrate the high safety levels and reliability of these vehicles – as well as to identify what work still needs to be done in future trials.”

            For more information on the LUTZ Pathfinder trial, please head to the project page.

Key survey findings

Project awareness:

23% – Percentage of adults surveyed nationally who had heard about LUTZ Pathfinder project

78% – Percentage of adults surveyed in Milton Keynes who had heard about LUTZ Pathfinder project

Interest in using “pods”:

38% – Percentage of adults in national survey who were “very interested” or “fairly interested” in using self-driving pods for a “short hop” journey

55% – Percentage of UK adults currently prevented from driving because of health problem or disability who were “very interested” or “fairly interested” in using self-driving pods for a “short hop” journey (national survey)

61% – Percentage of adults surveyed in Milton Keynes who were “very interested” or “fairly interested” in using self-driving pods for a “short hop” journey

Primary factors that would make people more likely to use a self-driving vehicle (national survey):

Affordability/low cost or free (11%)

Proven safety (10%)

If no longer able to drive (5%)

If more trials/data available (4%)

If operating in separate lanes (4%)

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