Driverless vehicles to hit UK cities and motorways in “groundbreaking” trial

Posted: 24 April 2017 | By Darcie Thompson-Fields

The UK’s ambitions to become a global leader in the development and roll-out of autonomous vehicles, moved up a gear this week with the announcement of a new £8.6 million project, which aims to have fully driverless vehicles on the road within the next 30 months.

The project has seen the creation of a consortium called DRIVEN, headed up by UK AI firm, Oxbotica, who said its creation will help to further cement the UK’s reputation as a world leader in the development of autonomous vehicles.

The firm, who demonstrated the first UK based driverless vehicles in Milton Keynes last October,  said it plans to deploy six vehicles by 2019. Each will be powered by its “cutting edge” platform Selenium, which provides any vehicle it is applied to with an awareness of where it is, what surrounds it and, with that knowledge in hand, how it should move to complete a task. In this case, the 120 mile round trip from its HQ in Oxford to London navigating urban areas and busy motorways.

Zero passenger occupancy

Oxbotica said vehicles will be operating at Level 4 autonomy – meaning they have the capability of performing all safety-critical driving functions and monitoring roadway conditions for an entire trip, with zero-passenger occupancy. It claims no connected and autonomous vehicle trial at this level of complexity and integration has ever been attempted before anywhere in the world.

“Today’s news is truly ground-breaking,” commented Dr Graeme Smith, Chief Executive of Oxbotica. “No company, group or consortium of autonomy experts has ever attempted what DRIVEN is planning over the next 30-months. We are seeking to address some of the most fundamental challenges preventing the future commercial deployment of fully autonomous vehicles. I have full confidence in DRIVEN’s world-leading and internationally respected team of specialists to deliver this project.”

Industry shake-up

The project plan, which is due to commence this week, will also shake-up both the transportation and insurance industries by seeking to remove fundamental barriers to real-world commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles. Key challenges the consortium will address include: communication and data sharing between connected vehicles; Connected and Autonomous Vehicles insurance modelling: risk profiling and the new cybersecurity challenges that this amount of data sharing will bring.

The project will “radically transform” how insurance and autonomous vehicles will work together in connected cities. A key challenge will be how to insure autonomous fleets of vehicles with the consortium planning to develop a system that automatically takes into account data from the vehicle and external sources that surround it, for example, traffic control systems.

The project will also address data protection and cyber-security concerns raised by international policymakers and law enforcement agencies around the world by defining common security and privacy policies related to connected and autonomous vehicles.

Other partners included on the consortium include; Oxford Robotics Institute (co-founder of Oxbotica), re/insurer XL Catlin, Nominet, Telefonica O2 UK, TRL, the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s RACE, Oxfordshire County Council, Transport for London and Westbourne Communications.

Professor Paul Newman, Head of the Oxford Robotics Institute based at the University of Oxford: “DRIVEN is the first of its kind and brings a host of new questions surrounding the way these vehicles will communicate with each other. We’re moving from the singleton autonomous vehicle, to fleets of autonomous vehicles – and what’s interesting to us at the Oxford Robotics Institute is what data the vehicles share with one another, when, and why.”

Richard Jinks, who leads the project at XL Catlin:“Working on this project gives us the opportunity to work with leading external parties to create a risk profiling tool and insurance pricing mechanism which is truly revolutionary.”

Dr Rob Buckingham, Head of RACE:“DRIVEN is important because it will answer questions around cyber security and insurance as well as the underlying technology. RACE has a key supporting role: enabling testing on the Culham Science Centre site before we venture on the public roads. DRIVEN reinforces our aspiration to enable connected and autonomous vehicles to be widely adopted. Starting in Oxfordshire we are already thinking about how autonomous vehicles fit within a modern transport plan for both Oxford and Didcot Garden Town. DRIVEN is a very important step on this journey.”

Russell Haworth, CEO, Nominet: “For autonomous cars to become mainstream, the correct framework must be in place so they can run safely and effectively. Working as part of this strong consortium, our team will be part of work that helps tackle those infrastructure challenges and keeps the UK at the forefront of this exciting field.”

Llewelyn Morgan, Service Manager Infrastructure, Innovation & Development for Communities at the county council:“Oxfordshire County Council has a vision of technology playing a leading role in transport in the coming years, and we have already adopted a pioneering vision of how intelligent mobility will play a key role in supporting the growth of Oxfordshire.

“The sort of technology that we are going to see being trialled as a result of this announcement has the potential to be the real game-changer. It will be incredible to have driverless vehicles being tested in the city and across the county and it will really allow people to see up-close how this technology will actually work.”

Iwan Parry, Head of Insurance at TRL: “To support the successful adoption ofCAVs, it is important to consider the enabling elements of insurance and vehicle interaction with traffic management systems, alongside the fundamental requirement of safe and controlled testing of the technology itself. Through DRIVEN, TRL will work with consortia partners to develop a structure for an integrated transport approach that sees vehicles connect seamlessly to urban traffic control systems. Innovative and dynamic insurance methodologies are also vital to ensure a confident reception to CAVs on UK roads.”

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