Opening of the Smart Mobility Living Lab in London and the Darwin SatCom Lab in Oxfordshire

UK increases driverless vehicle testing capability with new centres in London and Oxford

Last week saw the UK expand its driverless vehicle testing infrastructure with the opening of two impressive new facilities: the Smart Mobility Living Lab in London and the Darwin SatCom Lab in Oxfordshire.

On 30 September, Zenzic officially opened its Smart Mobility Living Lab (SMLL) with an online event featuring Paul Campion, CEO of TRL, and virtual ribbon-cutting by Danny Thorpe, leader of the council in the Royal Borough of Greenwich.

Described as the place to go for real-world connected and automated vehicles (CAV) and connected and automated mobility (CAM) testing, the SMLL will use public and private roads in London “to develop and validate new mobility and transport technologies in a real-world connected environment”.

The following day, O2 opened its new commercial 5G and satellite communications lab at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.

Part of Project Darwin, a four-year programme supported by O2 and the European Space Agency, it will “explore and trial next-gen connectivity solutions for connected and autonomous vehicles”.

Derek McManus, chief operating officer at O2, said: “We’re delighted to announce that the Darwin SatCom Lab is now open for business. It’s the next step in getting autonomous vehicles on the road and making the UK’s transport network greener.”

Amanda Solloway MP, Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, added: “I am incredibly excited that O2’s first of its kind driverless car lab will enable our most innovative businesses to test these technologies and bring us another step closer to putting self-driving vehicles safely on our roads.”

Typical, you wait months for a significant development and two come along at once.

UK Autodrive report highlights driverless progress and challenges

The groundbreaking UK Autodrive project has published its final report, reflecting on some impressive achievements and highlighting urgent challenges.

Back in December 2014, UK Autodrive was one of three successful consortia selected from Innovate UK’s Introducing Driverless Cars To UK Roads competition. On launch, in October 2015, it was the UK’s largest ever trial of connected and self-driving vehicles.

The rollcall of big names involved with the project included planning consultants Arup, Milton Keynes and Coventry City councils, vehicle manufacturers Jaguar Land Rover, Ford and Tata, automotive technology specialist RDM, transport systems specialist Horiba-Mira, and Oxford and Cambridge universities.

The three main elements were: 1) The Cars programme, focused on the development and trialling of connected and autonomous passenger cars; 2) The Pods programme, focused on the development and trialling of a new form of last-mile electric-powered pod vehicle; and 3) The Cities programme, aimed at helping cities to understand how they could best facilitate and benefit from automated transport systems.

JLR, Tata and RDM all praised it for significantly advancing their autonomous capabilities, with Emergency Vehicle Warning and Collaborative Parking judged to have been particularly effective. The Electronic Emergency Brake Light feature was also considered to have strong potential.

Just as importantly, the report highlighted five major challenges:

  • The levels of integration with road infrastructure, including traffic signals
  • Issues related to time synchronisation between system components
  • Extra care to be taken during testing in areas where pedestrians cross
  • The need to correct for road surface imperfections compared to 2D maps
  • The current imprecision of GPS for lane-level localisation

Tim Armitage, project director at Arup, said: “The success of the project was primarily down to the vast and varied expertise of the UK Autodrive consortium partners, and to the collaborative manner in which we worked from day one.”

You can download the full report here

UK driverless car road trials in Cambridge, London and Manchester

Following the Department for Transport’s announcement that the UK is planning advanced driverless car road trials – meaning no safety driver – here’s an update on the latest tests currently taking place in English cities.

In Bromley and Croydon, FiveAI is operating five self-driving cars day and night with safety drivers at the wheel.

The plan is to roll-out an autonomous car-sharing service, with passenger trials scheduled to begin next year.

FiveAI’s co-founder and chief executive, Stan Boland, said: “Safety and trusted partnerships are crucial to everything we do. We’ll continue to keep residents informed along the way, working closely with the London Boroughs and Transport for London.”

The company was previously part a project known as StreetWise – a consortium awarded more than £12m by the Government to develop autonomous car software.

In Cambridge, Wayve is developing a system which relies on cameras, a sat-nav and machine learning, rather than hand-coded rules.

This video shows a Wayve vehicle with a backup driver navigating complex urban streets it has never encountered before:

A Wayve vehicle with a backup driver navigating complex urban streets

The company’s co-founder and chief technology officer, Alex Kendall, said: “We’ve built a system which can drive like a human, using only cameras and a sat-nav. This is only possible with end-to-end machine learning. With each piece of data we’re able to train our system to get better and better.”

This appears to fly in the face of the majority view that radar and lidar are vital connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) technologies. Time will tell.

Looking ahead, Project Synergy is planning to run three autonomous, electric Westfield sports cars on public roads between Stockport Railway Station and Manchester Airport from January 2020.

Clare Cornes, intelligent mobility manager at Westfield, said: “Safety is paramount on this project.”

We certainly hope so!

New driverless car UK road trials

Since 2014, the UK government has invested over £120 million supporting over 70 connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) projects, with a further £68 million coming from industry contributions.

The most recent road trials to be announced include self-driving vehicles running on single-track roads in the Highlands and islands of Scotland.

Other new initiatives include an autonomous bus service from Fife to Edinburgh (across the Forth Bridge) and a self-driving taxi trial in London.

The ServCity pilot, led by Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), has won £11.15m from Innovate UK towards its £19.8m project to develop a bookable autonomous taxi service in the capital.

The consortium also includes the University of Nottingham and Professor Gary Burnett, Chair of Transport Human Factors, said: “ServCity is an ideal opportunity for us to conduct world-leading research to understand the complex factors that will contribute to the public’s acceptance of connected and automated vehicles.”

Elsewhere, the government has recently backed four other projects which form part of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and Meridian’s £100m infrastructure programme:

1) The Connected Vehicle Data Exchange (ConVEx), led by Bosch, to help position the UK as a leader in CAV research and development.

2) Highway Intersections, which will see 6km of track added to Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground in Leicestershire to mimic a variety of road junctions.

3) Rural and Highway, a project adding 265km of roads to UK public, controlled and virtual testing facilities via the Midlands Future Mobility consortium.

4) Self-parking Cars, a consortium including Japanese-owned HORIBA MIRA and Coventry University to create realistic parking scenarios on Warwickshire’s MIRA technology park.

On a visit to driverless vehicle software company Oxbotica, Business and Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, said: “The UK is building on its automotive heritage and strengths to develop the new vehicles and technologies and from 2021 the public will get to experience the future for themselves.”

For further details on CCAV projects, see the 80-page report UK Connected & Autonomous Vehicle Research & Development Projects 2018.