50 years on from a forward-looking BBC news report on driverless cars, how close did they get to today’s reality?

Video: BBC Archive releases remarkably prescient 1971 news report on driverless cars

On 5 May, the BBC Archive released a news broadcast from May 1971 showcasing “driverless cars and the future of motoring”, as part of its Retro Transport strand.

Self-driving 1971 style

Filmed at the Road Research Laboratory (RRL) in Berkshire – which became the Transport Research Laboratory, and then TRL, which now runs London’s Smart Mobility Living Lab – our man from the Beeb makes some bold predictions.

So, with the massive benefit of hindsight, how did he get on?

He begins: “There’ll be 30 million cars on the roads of Britain by the end of this century. And motoring will be quite different.”

That’s a strong start as, according to Statista, the number of licensed cars in the UK in the year 2000 was 27.2 million, hugely up from around 10 million when he made the prediction. Not bad crystal-ball gazing!

He goes on to discuss how on-board black-box recorders will assist with toll-paying and traffic regulation, saying: “They’ve been showing us for the first time some of the machinery which will enable them to bill us by computer for driving in these places.

“The idea is that at the entrance to the busy city centre or to other crucial points on the road, there’ll be electrified loops of wire underneath the road surface. And as a car passes, it activates these electric wires.”

Not 10 out of 10 maybe, but still remarkably prescient given congestion charging and telematics-based insurance are now a reality.

It also brings to mind our interview last year with Elliot Hemes, of IPG Automotive UK, who suggested:You could say, for example, you can’t use the M6 Toll unless you have vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications. That would enable platooning.”

So, 50 years on, in terms of road-charging and vehicle connectivity in the UK, his prediction is well on the way to becoming true. Can he keep it up?

The next segment covers research into the most efficient means of getting vehicles on and off Channel Tunnel trains.

Again, he’s pretty spot on, apart from optimistically suggesting this could be in operation by 1978. In reality, construction didn’t start for another decade and the service wasn’t available until 1994. Still, on the big points, he hasn’t been wrong yet.

Driverless crystal-ball gazing

The report saved the best til last, with the segment on self-driving beginning just over two-minutes in.

The reporter enthused: “The very last word is the totally automatic car, no driver at all. The whole thing’s remotely controlled by cables and electrics under the road.”

Hmmm, that’s sounds more like Scalextric than an autonomous vehicle.

Still, he pressed on: “Steering, accelerating, gear-changing, braking and stopping, all the switches and electronics in the car could be provided for £100.”

If only. Maybe costs will come down over time and he’ll end up being proved right.

Thankfully, he rediscovers his inner Nostradmus towards the end, explaining: “The radar device on the front will one day be able to tell how near you are to the car in front of you and slow you down automatically.”

Basically, automated emergency braking (AEB).

Adding: “It’s all needed because you and I are not as good as machines. We tire, we lose concentration, we get cross. One day we will just be able to link our car onto an automatic system to take us right up the motorway.”

I heard something very similar at the Zenzic Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) Innovators event just last month.

He concluded: “So, we’ve had a glimpse or two of driving of the future. It’s going to be probably easier, certainly more regimented. And the day may come when the driver becomes totally redundant.”

Most impressive, as Darth Vader said in Empire Strikes Back, especially considering the Star Wars universe was still a figment of George Lucas’s imagination.

NEVS Sango EVs to be fitted with Oxbotica self-driving tech.

Gimme, gimme, gimme a robotaxi after midnight! Oxbotica and NEVS unite for self-driving, all-electric on-demand mobility

Just in time for Eurovision, one of the UK’s leading self-driving companies, Oxbotica, has a signed a long-term strategic partnership with Swedish disruptive mobility organisation, NEVS.

Stefan Tilk of NEVS and Gavin Jackson of Oxbotica agree new self-driving EV deal
Stefan Tilk of NEVS and Gavin Jackson of Oxbotica agree new self-driving EV deal

The agreement will see Oxbotica integrating its Driver autonomy system into NEVS’ eye-catching Sango electric vehicle (EV). The result: a fleet of self-driving, all-electric vehicles providing on-demand mobility services on geo-fenced public roads by the end of 2023.

“Gimme, gimme, gimme a robotaxi after midnight” as Swedish super troup and multi-Eurovison winners, ABBA, nearly said.

If successful, “multiple projects in Europe” will follow in 2024 and, from 2025 onwards, the solution will be “scaled across the globe”.

Self-driving collaborations

Oxbotica is building a reputation for major collaborations and Cars of the Future was on the money (money money) with news of its all-weather radar localisation solution for automated vehicles (AVs) with Navtech Radar, and its AV trial at BP’s Lingen refinery in Germany.

You can read more about the Oxford University spin-out’s vision in this 2021 interview with Co-founder and CTO, Professor Paul Newman.

Its new partner, National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB (NEVS), was established in 2012, with roots from the 1940s, and is based in Trollhättan in Sweden’s famous automotive cluster.

Official comments

Commenting on the NEVS partnership, Gavin Jackson, new CEO at Oxbotica, said: “The combination of Oxbotica Driver and this stunning, next-generation, electric vehicle is a perfect match.

“It allows us to create an urban mobility service that will make roads safer, cleaner, and less congested, and provide customers with a new way to travel. The partnership will truly change how the earth moves and I can’t wait to see the first vehicles out on the road next year.”

Stefan Tilk, President at NEVS, said: “Having a partnership with Oxbotica and being able to progress substantially with its autonomous stack as the “driver”, will indeed make the ecosystem of our mobility solution complete.

“Through this partnership we will be able to deploy pilots and commercial fleets – ensuring a breakthrough in the movement of people in a green, safe and smart way, paving the way for sustainable cities.”

As detailed in Queen’s Speech 2022 lobby pack, the self-driving sector is predicted to be worth £41.7bn to the UK economy by 2035. The winner takes it all, apparently.

Somewhat surprisingly, as it had been trailed, there was no mention of self-driving in the 2022 Queen’s Speech

Queen’s Speech 2022: a notable absence and no mention of self-driving

The 2022 Queen’s Speech – delivered by Prince Charles following Monday’s announcement that the monarch would not attend – set out the UK government’s legislative programme but, somewhat disappointingly, there was no mention of self-driving.

This despite the letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson from 17 major UK businesses calling for primary legislation for automated vehicles (AVs) to be included…

… and the Queen’s Speech 2022: Transport In Focus article, published on the House of Lords Library webpage on 5 May, which said: “The speech is expected to include several measures concerning transport… establishing a new rail body; regulating the sale of e-scooters; and providing for driverless cars.”

House of Lords Library re self-driving in Queen’s Speech 2022
House of Lords Library re self-driving in Queen’s Speech 2022

No self-driving?

Come the big day, there was only this broad commitment: “My Government will improve transport across the United Kingdom, delivering safer, cleaner services and enabling more innovations.

Indeed, the only transport sector to get a special mention was rail: “Legislation will be introduced to modernise rail services and improve reliability for passengers.”

It was left to others to fill in the gaps.

AA president, Edmund King, said: “The world of transport is changing rapidly with new innovations and technologies for consumers to choose from. Regardless of how people travel, we must keep the consumer at the heart of it.

“For car owners, the drive towards electrification needs more support and we are pleased to see more emphasis on boosting the public charging network. As well as installing more chargepoints, we need to ensure they are reliable, easy to use, safe and accessible to all.

“Similarly, drivers will need to be part of the conversation when it comes to introducing more autonomous technology in cars. Drivers are not quite ready to take their hands off the wheel and are nervous about handing over responsibility to the car but are supportive of technology such as autonomous emergency braking which enhances safety.

“With e-scooters and other forms of micro-mobility popping up more frequently on UK roads, it makes sense that safety regulation should come first. If introduced alongside appropriate infrastructure, e-mobility could help provide a positive shift in greener localised travel both for individuals and last-mile freight.” 

Cllr David Renard, Transport spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said: “Councils are determined to tackle climate change and are already supporting the transition to electric vehicles. It is good that the Queen’s Speech outlines ambitions to speed up this transition but councils need clarity about their role in delivering this change.”

Other parts of the speech which may be relevant to self-driving included “An Energy Bill to deliver the transition to cheaper, cleaner, and more secure energy” and the announcement that “The United Kingdom’s data protection regime will be reformed”.

Ah well, remember the glory days when, at the state opening of parliament, the Queen said: “My ministers will ensure the UK is at the forefront of technology for new forms of transport, including autonomous and electric vehicles.” That was back in 2016.

[Edit at 11.30am on Wed 11 May ]

Our thanks to Felix Boon, Solicitor and Senior Claim Adjuster at Zurich Insurance, for pointing out that, deep in the Queen’s Speech 2022 lobby pack (on page 31 of 140), there are couple of brief references to self-driving: 

“Legislation for self-driving vehicles will enable an emerging UK sector in this new technology, predicted by the Connected Places Catapult in 2020 to be worth £41.7 billion to the UK economy by 2035 and expected to create 38,000 new skilled jobs.”

And

“Introducing new laws that safely enable self-driving and remotely operated vehicles and vessels, support the roll-out of electric vehicle charge points and enabling the licensing of London pedicabs.”

Apparently not worthy of inclusion in the actual Speech!

Finnish company Sensible 4 tests two self-driving Toyota Proace vans at minus 20 degrees.

Snow way! Finland successfully trials L4 self-driving in worst weather for years

At this week’s FT Future of the Car Summit, Volkswagen Group CEO, Herbert Diess, predicted it could take years for self-driving cars to master extreme weather.

He’s probably right, but the technology is progressing at a startling rate. See this incredible footage from testing in Q1 2022 by Finnish self-driving company, Sensible 4:

Video: Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace in Tampere, Finland, in 2022

Conducted in Tampere, southern Finland, the two-and-a-half month pilot scheme involved two self-driving Toyota Proace vans operating in mixed traffic on a 3.5km route at up to 30km/h, in what Sensible 4 describe as “the worst and most challenging winter conditions in years”.

Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace in street in Tampere, Finland, 2022
Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace in street in Tampere, Finland, 2022

The treacherous conditions included temperatures below -20°C, heavy snowfall, freezing rain, and additional slipperiness due to temperature variations around zero degrees. Not exactly the glorious sunshine of San Francisco, or even Margate for that matter!

Sensible 4 develops SAE Level 4 full-stack autonomous driving software potentially capable of giving any vehicle self-driving capabilities. The technology combines software and information from different sensors to enable operation, it claims, “in all weather conditions”.

Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace cabin view
Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace cabin view

The pilot was a part of the EU-funded SHOW project, with an aim to find out how autonomous vehicles could work as a part of future urban transportation.

Public reaction to the vans – emblazoned with the slogan “I’m Driverless” – was said to be positive.

Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace with I’m driverless slogan
Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace with I’m driverless slogan

Mika Kulmala, Project Manager for the City of Tampere, said: “The self-driving vehicles ran smoothly and felt safe. In the future, I see these kinds of vehicles complementing the public transportation system for certain routes and amounts of passengers.

“We still need more testing to make sure of reliability, and that the service either brings cost-savings or gives a better service level to the population.”

Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace with bus in Tampere
Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace with public transport in Tampere

The project’s national coordinator, Pekka Eloranta, from Sitowise, added: “We got a good amount of passengers to try and test the service, even some regular customers.

“Also, we were able to collect feedback, for example, concerning accessibility. This aspect is important to take into account to be able to provide service to all user groups in the future.”

Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace vans
Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace vans

Jussi Suomela, of Sensible 4, was understandably very satisfied. “This pilot was valuable for understanding the customer and end-user needs better, including especially the accessibility aspects,” he said.

“The weather was exceptionally snowy but the software and vehicles performed well and we were able to collect important test data of the extreme conditions and experience of the challenging weather.”

Sensible 4 will continue operating pilots later this year in Norway, Switzerland, Japan and Germany.

VW and Volvo CEOs talk connected and automated mobility (CAM) at the FT’s Future of the Car Summit 2022.

Next gen mobility will be transformational like smartphones predicts new Volvo CEO Rowan

Connected and automated mobility (CAM) featured prominently on the first morning of the four-day Future of the Car Summit 2022, hosted by Financial Times Live.

The online-only first day (Monday 9 May), ahead of in-person and digital events tomorrow and Wednesday, included big name vehicle manufacturer speakers – Volkswagen Group CEO, Herbert Diess, and Volvo Cars CEO, Jim Rowan.

Future mobility

Diess targeted an 10-12% market share in the US and reiterated that he sees VW as a tech company not a car company.

VW's Herbert Diess at the launch of the first BP Flexpole EV fast charger
VW’s Herbert Diess at the launch of the first BP Flexpole EV fast charger

On connectivity, he described modern cars as “most advanced devices on the internet”, saying: “Up until now, you do the hardware, electronics, software, you do the launch and then you don’t touch it anymore.

“Now, you continuously work on the systems in the car to deliver more functionality. In autonomous driving, the car becomes a learning device. You have to upgrade the software over time, you have to take all this responsibility.”

He also predicted it could take years for self-driving cars to master extreme weather.

Like feature phones to smartphones

Next up was new Volvo Cars CEO, Jim Rowan. Formerly of Dyson and BlackBerry, he likened the current state of play in the automotive industry to that of the telecoms industry as it moved from feature phones to smartphones.

Volvo Cars CEO, Jim Rowan, 2022
Volvo Cars CEO, Jim Rowan, 2022

“The smartphone enriched that product to a level that no one had really envisaged, and how much more that became a part of everyday life was transformational,” he said.

“The same thing is going to happen in the auto industry, or in the next generation mobility industry as I prefer to call it. What we’ll be able to do with next gen mobility is going to be tremendously different from what we currently do with cars.

“I think you’ll see great technology being used across every car going forward. We’re actually seeing that right now, and that’s only going to accelerate.

“Remember, the next generation that we need to bring into the car market is Gen Z, digital natives born into a digital world. They expect connectivity, they expect services to be available seamlessly between their car, home and phone. It’s not a wow factor to them.”

Connected and automated mobility

There followed a panel discussion on “Revolutionising the in-vehicle experience and turning it into a recurring revenue stream”, with TJ Fox, Senior Vice President of Industrial IoT and Automotive at Verizon Business, Gianmarco Brunetti, Head of Commercial Transformation at Jaguar Land Rover, and recent Cars of the Future interviewee, Inma Martinez, from the Global Partnership on AI (GPAI).

Fox focused on the infrastructure – network quality and reliability across all use cases, especially for “mission critical” applications.

“Vehicles will be constantly updated to continually get better than they were the day they came off the production line, and 5G will be underpinning that moving forward,” he said.

While Brunetti focused on the customer experiences. “I expect that in the future we will be mainly focusing on two things,” he said.

“First, how we can be of more service to the customer, how we can make their day-to-day experience better; and second, how can we leverage technology to make our operations better and more efficient.”

Martinez set out GPAI’s aim, as a partnership of 25 OECD nations, to ensure that artificial intelligence becomes “a tool for good, and progress and welfare”.

Inma Martinez of the Global Partnership on AI (GPAI)
Inma Martinez of the Global Partnership on AI (GPAI)

“At the moment, data is basically just for safety,” she said. “In the very near future, it will be used to make cars really smart – evolving, self-learning AI – gathering data from the exterior to create situational awareness.

“Safety was always the biggest goal that governments imposed on the sector, now it is CO2 emissions, but traditionally it was safety. The auto industry is very close to the space and the aerospace industries – the aim is zero errors, pure perfection.”

It was a great start to the event, and we look forward to the headline act tomorrow evening, with Tesla CEO Elon Musk confirmed for a live hour-long interview.

Indy Autonomous Challenge winner PoliMOVE sets new self-driving world speed record at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Video: 192mph PoliMOVE car rockets to self-driving world speed record

On 27 April 2022, the PoliMOVE car, developed by The Politecnico university in Milan, set a new world speed record for a self-driving vehicle, an impressive 192.2mph (309.3kph).

Self-driving record on Space Shuttle airstrip

The feat was achieved on the famous Space Shuttle landing runway at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

 Fastest self-driving car April 2022 – PoliMOVE – via Indy Autonomous Challenge

As is customary for such attempts, the new mark was the average speed achieved across two consecutive 1km runs in opposite directions, to mitigate the effects of any tailwind.

The previous day, PoliMOVE had beaten the previous record of 175.49mph (282.42kph), held by Roborace, but the team were confident they could go faster.

Especially pleasing for metric fans, the new record time meant breaking the 300kph barrier for the first time.

Indy Autonomous Challenge winner

The Politecnico team were invited to use the iconic Space Shuttle straight following their hard-won victory at the Indy Autonomous Challenge in January.

The PoliMOVE self-driving racecar won the Indy Autonomous Challenge in January 2022
The PoliMOVE self-driving racecar won the Indy Autonomous Challenge in January 2022

There, PoliMOVE reached 172.9mph (278.4kph) at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, beating teams from six other universities to claim the $150k top prize.

To ensure an even playing field, all Indy Autonomous Challenge teams used the same model racecar – a Dallara AV-21 – with each adding their own software.

TUM Autonomous Motorsport from the Technische Universität in Munich, Germany, took second place, winning $50k.

PoliMOVE and TUM self-driving cars battling at the Indy Autonomous Challenge in January 2022
PoliMOVE and TUM self-driving cars battling at the Indy Autonomous Challenge in January 2022

Official comment

Professor Sergio Savaresi, team leader for Politecnico di Milano, commented: “We saw what the future holds for autonomous vehicles and credit goes to the entire PoliMOVE team, especially Dr Brandon Dixon.

“We were running a car operating on algorithms alone, where precision is paramount, and any small prediction error could have created a completely different outcome.

“This test run was exhilarating, and we are thrilled with the world record, but we’re also excited by the fact that this data will be made available to all, and the industry will benefit from our work.”

Politecnico di Milano specialises in engineering and industrial design, with many courses taught in English.

The Politecnico research group, led by Prof. Savaresi, has been studying automatic controls on everything from electric bicycles to tractors for over 20 years.

PoliMOVE self-driving car at Atlanta Atlanta Motor Speedway, May 2022
PoliMOVE self-driving car at Atlanta Motor Speedway, May 2022

This week, the PoliMOVE team moved on to the Atlanta Motor Speedway for further high-speed testing…  this time involving turning! We await the results with interest.

Industry letter to UK Prime Minister calls for primary legislation to seize global self-driving opportunity.

Businesses urge PM to add self-driving legislation to Queen’s Speech on 10 May

The top brass from 17 major UK businesses have jointly written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for the Government to announce primary legislation for automated vehicles (AVs) in the Queen’s Speech on 10 May.

The broad coalition consists of representatives from the self-driving sector – AECOM, Aurrigo, Conigital, Wayve and Westfield Technology Group – the insurance sector – Admiral, the Association of British Insurers (ABI), AXA, Thatcham Research and Zego – the tech sector – Coadec, techUK and Virgin – the finance sector – firstminute capital and Eclipse Ventures – and supermarket groups ASDA and Ocado.

Legal framework for self-driving

Together, they call for a comprehensive legal framework for the safe and sustainable deployment of AVs, citing economic and societal benefits including improved road safety and reduced emissions.

Sky News concluded that: “The letter contained a veiled warning to ministers, including the business secretary, that time was running out to keep pace with rival regulatory frameworks.”

Notably, in Germany, 13,000km of motorway are already approved for Level 3 automated driving.

In the UK, the recent Highway Code announcement to move Britain “closer to a self-driving revolution” referred to a 2025 target for having a full regulatory framework in place.

The letter quotes statistics from the Connected Places Catapult – the government’s innovation agency for the transport industry – including “an export potential worth £10.9bn by 2035.”

Connected Places Catapult self-driving market forecast
Connected Places Catapult self-driving market forecast

Dougie Barnett, Director of Customer Risk Management at AXA UK, commented: “As one of the largest motor insurers, AXA is keen to support, promote and enable the take-up of automated technology on UK roads.

“AVs would provide significant societal benefits, including safer, cleaner and more accessible roads and, via the development of the technology, would support SMEs scaling up and subsequently levelling-up throughout the UK.

“However, the development of self-driving technology needs to be underpinned by a robust legal and regulatory framework, which prioritises the safety of all road users.

“With this letter, we are urging the Government to announce primary legislation for AVs, ensuring safety remains at the heart of their development and deployment as well as advancing the benefits they bring to society.” 

Self-driving legislation letter

The letter, dated 21 April 2022 and titled “Primary Legislation for Automated Vehicles”, was addressed to PM Boris Johnson and cc’d to Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, Trudy Harrison MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport (DfT) and Kwasi Kwarteng MP, Secretary of State at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The full text reads…

Dear Prime Minister,

We write from across industry to highlight the benefits of automated vehicles (AVs) to the UK and call on the Government to announce primary legislation for Automated Vehicles in the upcoming Queen’s Speech. We welcome the extensive work of the Law Commissions of England and Wales, and Scotland, who have collaborated with industry to propose a comprehensive legal framework for the safe and sustainable deployment of AVs.

The UK has a unique opportunity to be a global leader in the development and deployment of AVs, or self-driving vehicles. This technology is the most exciting innovation for transport in decades and has the potential to level-up every corner of the UK, improve the country’s productivity, create jobs, reduce emissions, improve road safety, and bolster opportunities everywhere.

The industry has the potential to unleash economic growth across the whole of the UK. The global market for AVs is predicted to be worth £650bn by 2035, of which the UK is estimated to gain £41.7bn, creating 49,000 highly skilled green jobs in 2035, and a further 23,000 jobs from AV technologies. There is also an export potential worth £10.9bn by 2035 [according to the Connected Places Catapult Market Forecast For Connected and Autonomous Vehicles].

Beyond the significant economic opportunity, this transition is essential to meet the Government’s Net Zero target. Self-driving electric vehicles could greatly reduce congestion, pollution and fuel consumption. In addition, they offer huge opportunities for an increase in safety and reduction in road deaths. Research shows that a shift to AVs could bring a 93% reduction in accidents by 2040. And since road accidents are the leading cause of death among those aged 15-29, many thousands of lives are likely to be saved.

We urge the Government to consider the benefit this can bring to people’s everyday lives across the country too. Automated mobility has the potential to better connect rural communities and provide people with better access to opportunities. For example, a visually impaired person who can’t drive or navigate public transport easily will be able to stay connected to their friends and family via a self-driving mobility service. AVs also mean goods, like our everyday groceries, can be moved around the country more efficiently and safely, supporting the green transition of the last-mile delivery market which is predicted to be worth £44bn by 2025.

It is crucial that we unlock this technology and create a safe regulatory framework for people across the UK. This is a critical year in the development of this technology, as we see more examples of AVs moving closer to deployment. The Government needs to introduce legislation this year, to ensure the UK remains a world leader in AVs, and continues attracting investment to the UK. We are aware that other countries are looking to legislate this year and we strongly recommend that the UK maintains its global stance in this industry.

We would be pleased to discuss any of the above and look forward to continued engagement with the Government as the regulatory framework for the safe use of self-driving technology evolves.

Yours Sincerely,

Claudio Gienal, CEO, AXA UK&I
Alex Kendall, Co-founder and CEO, Wayve
Josh Bayliss, CEO, Virgin Group
Prof. David Keene, CEO, Aurrigo
Cristina Nestares, UK CEO, Admiral
Matthew Avery, CEO, Thatcham Research
Julian Turner, CEO, Westfield Technology Group
Don Dhaliwal, CEO, Conigital Limited
Dom Hallas, Executive Director, Coadec
Tim Steiner OBE, CEO, Ocado Group
Brent Hoberman, Co-founder & Executive Chairman, firstminute capital
Sten Saar, CEO, Zego
Seth Winterroth, Partner, Eclipse Ventures
Andy Barker, COO, AECOM
Julian David, CEO, techUK
James Dalton, Director of General Insurance Policy, ABI
Simon Gregg, Senior Vice President – E-Commerce, ASDA

Project Encode demonstrates live switching between manual driving, self-driving and teleoperation in Oxford and London.

Another UK self-driving 1st: Project Encode demonstrates transfer of control between manual, autonomous and teleoperation

In another UK self-driving first, Project Encode recently 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) – like CAVForth – and Innovate UK, partners in the project included technology specialist StreetDrone, IoT security company Angoka, Coventry University and Oxfordshire County Council.

Manual to self-driving to remote operation

The aim was to illustrate how automation can be progressively introduced into industrial settings, with autonomous systems managing the more straightforward vehicle operations and remote drivers stepping in to handle more complex tasks as necessary.

Project Encode demonstration video 

The consortium says this proof of concept – delivering transferable responsibility for vehicle control in a cyber-secure context – is central to advancing the application of driverless and teleoperated vehicles across logistics networks.

Official comments

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.

“Where tasks are too complex for autonomous technologies, teleoperations steps in. This integration provides a ‘ready-now’ solution and it has been a sight to behold.”

Project Encode – manual driving, self-driving and teleoperation
Project Encode – manual driving, self-driving and teleoperation

Dr Giedre Sabaliauskaite, Associate Professor at Coventry University’s Systems Security Group, part of the Centre for Future Transport and Cities (CFTC), added: “It is very important security assurance processes are addressed through the design and engineering cycle.

“This demonstration through the Encode project offers an opportunity to establish a rigorous assurance cycle, ultimately for wider public acceptance.”

Changes to The Highway Code move Britain “closer to a self-driving revolution”.

UK Highway Code self-driving announcement sparks media uproar

In a major development for connected and automated mobility (CAM) in the UK, on 20 April 2022 the government set out changes to The Highway Code to move Britain “closer to a self-driving revolution”.

The announcement, by Department for Transport (DfT), the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), and Trudy Harrison MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the DfT, certainly had the wow factor.

Self-driving safety

The bullet points at the start stated the important overriding aim to “ensure the first self-driving vehicles are introduced safely on UK roads”.

The planned changes to The Highway Code are therefore intended to “clarify drivers’ responsibilities in self-driving vehicles, including when a driver must be ready to take back control”.

Eyebrows were raised at the line: “While travelling in self-driving mode, motorists must be ready to resume control in a timely way if they are prompted to – such as when they approach motorway exits.”

More hyperbolic self-driving headlines

But the announcement ran into real trouble with this: “The plans also include a change to current regulation, allowing drivers to view content that is not related to driving on built-in display screens, while the self-driving vehicle is in control. It will, however, still be illegal to use mobile phones in self-driving mode, given the greater risk they pose in distracting drivers.”

The national press went into meltdown and we’ll look at this in more detail in a special edition of Hyperbolic Self-driving Headlines. But it was enough to prompt senior CAM industry figures to come out in defence of the technology.

Edward Houghton, Head of Research and Service Design at DG Cities, took to Twitter to criticise a Guardian article – A self-driving revolution? Don’t believe the hype: we’re barely out of second gear – for significantly playing down where self-driving R&D is in the UK and for failing to acknowledge its potential to improve road safety.

List of cars approved for self-driving

Back to the announcement itself. This section is worth rereading: “Britain’s first vehicles approved for self-driving could be ready for use later this year. Vehicles will undergo rigorous testing and only be approved as self-driving when they have met stringent standards.”

What does that actually mean? Ever astute, Barrister Alex Glassbrook, who last year expressed real doubts about proposed changes to the Highway Code, took to Linkedin to highlight the launch of a new government webpage for “Self-driving vehicles listed for use in Great Britain”.

At the time of publication the page lists, er, no vehicles. However, it does include the line “You must insure your self-driving vehicle as self-driving”.

New webpage to check if a vehicle is listed as self-driving for use in Great Britain
New webpage to check if a vehicle is listed as self-driving for use in Great Britain

So, the question remains: Will cars equipped with Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) be the first to make the grade and be official recognised as “automated”?

Glassbrook also noted a 2025 target for having a full regulatory framework in place to support the widespread deployment of self-driving technology.

Official comments

The announcement – which asserted that self-driving vehicles could create 38,000 new, high-skilled jobs in Britain by 2035 – was accompanied by statements from Transport Minister Trudy Harrison, the RAC’s Steve Gooding and the SMMT’s Mike Hawes.

Transport Minister Harrison said: “This is a major milestone in our safe introduction of self-driving vehicles, which will revolutionise the way we travel, making our future journeys greener, safer and more reliable.

“This exciting technology is developing at pace right here in Great Britain and we’re ensuring we have strong foundations in place for drivers when it takes to our roads.

“In doing so, we can help improve travel for all while boosting economic growth across the nation and securing Britain’s place as a global science superpower.”

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “The Highway Code has been updated a number of times in recent years. These latest additions will help us all understand what we must and must not do as we move forward to an environment where cars drive themselves.

“The final part of the jigsaw is to ensure these amendments are widely communicated to, ​and understood by,​ vehicle owners. Vehicle manufacturers and sellers will have a vital role to play in ensuring their customers fully appreciate the capabilities of the cars they buy and the rules that govern them.”

Mike Hawes, Chief Executive of The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: “Amending The Highway Code to reflect the pace of technological change will help clarify what motorists can and can’t do when a self-driving feature is engaged, so promoting its safe use.”

As you can imagine, there was reaction to the news from across the automotive industry, including the service and repair sector.

Neil Atherton, Sales and Marketing Director at Autoglass, rightly drew attention to the need for sensor recalibration.

“Much has been made of the dawn of fully autonomous vehicles, but in reality many of these technologies are already in our vehicles,” he said.

“Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), especially the windscreen fitted sensors that monitor road conditions and hazards in real time, will need to be fitted in all new cars rolling off the production line later this year, and drivers and the wider automotive industry need to be ready to use and maintain them properly. 

“Calibration and recalibration of these technologies is absolutely critical for their effective operation.”

Watch what happens when SFPD pull a driverless Cruise robotaxi on April Fools’ Day 2022

Full 3 minute video: Police stop self-driving car in San Francisco – “Ain’t nobody in it!” and then it drives off

A video has gone viral of San Francisco police pulling over a Cruise robotaxi only to find it completely devoid of humans, a truly driverless self-driving car. “Ain’t nobody in it!” the officer says.

Then, with comic timing, when the officer turns his back, the car – a modified Chevrolet Bolt – drives off, pulling over again on the other side of an intersection, with the police car in pursuit, lights flashing.

Watch police pull a self-driving car

Video of police stopping self-driving car in San Francisco by Brandon Melim via ViralHog 

As previously reported, General Motors–backed Cruise started offering automated rides to the public in San Francisco with no safety driver in February.

On the night in question – hilariously 1st April 2022, April Fools’ Day (honestly, you couldn’t make it up!) – officers pulled the car because it was driving at night without headlights. Cruise later said this was due to human error.

The video was posted to Instagram by b.rad916 with the comment: “Confused SFPD pulling over an autonomous vehicle in the Richmond District!! Then it tries to take off!!”, followed by the grinning squinting face and police car emojis.

Police stop self-driving car in San Francisco by Brandon Melim via ViralHog
Police stop self-driving car in San Francisco by Brandon Melim via ViralHog

He later explained: “My friends and I were walking home from dinner down Clement Street when we heard police sirens. We didn’t think much of it but when I looked over, I noticed there was nobody driving, so I pulled out my phone and started recording.

“When the officers got the Cruise autonomous car to pull over, they approached the vehicle and the windows rolled down. Turned out they initiated the stop because it was driving without its headlights on.

“I thought it was funny that the officers were so confused and found it funny (they were laughing and pacing back-and-forth). I also thought it was strange that the cops think it’s necessary for a robot car to need headlights to see. I’m sure the cameras and AI are advanced enough to navigate safely at night and can see better than the human eye.”

What about other cars seeing it though? Anyway, mirth abounded with amused onlookers, presumably quite familiar with these revolutionary cars of the future, laughing and joking… as if they’d been waiting for something like this to happen.

The best comments heard on the video include: “Ain’t nobody in it”, “This is crazy”, “Are you serious? How does that happen?”, “Oh my god I have to watch this”, “Can you send that to me please?”, “Guys… oh my god, finally”, “So it stops when pulled over? Automatically?”, “We’ve got a code 7 here” – apparently a reference to police radio code for out of service to eat – and, simply, “What the f***”.

Official responses

The San Francisco Police Department reportedly confirmed: “On Friday, April 1, 2022, at approximately 10:00pm officers observed a vehicle travelling without activated headlights at Clement Street and 8th Avenue.

“Officers stopped behind the vehicle and discovered that there was no driver in the vehicle and no other occupant was present. During this contact officers affected a traffic stop. The vehicle moved forward but stopped again to yield for the officers.

“During the stop officers made contact with the remote operator of the driverless vehicle. Upon the officer’s notification a maintenance team responded to the vehicle’s location and took control of the vehicle. No citation was issued during the traffic stop.”

A pretty lenient response, basically: no ticket on this occasion, be on your way.

Cruise responded on Twitter on 10 April: “Chiming in with more details: our AV yielded to the police vehicle, then pulled over to the nearest safe location for the traffic stop, as intended. An officer contacted Cruise personnel and no citation was issued.”

Before adding: “We work closely with the SFPD on how to interact with our vehicles, including a dedicated phone number for them to call in situations like this.”

The company also highlighted its November 2021 YouTube video Interacting with a Cruise Autonomous Vehicle: A Guide for First Responders.

Only in California, you might say, but how long before we see such incidents in the UK?