London’s first driverless ‘pods’ revealed ahead of trial

heathrow_podThe prospect of driverless vehicles in London has moved a step closer with the unveiling of the first autonomous vehicles to be tested on the streets of Greenwich.

British companies Westfield Sportscars, Heathrow Enterprises and Oxbotica, have joined the GATEway project, and are currently developing the driverless shuttles for operation in Greenwich during summer 2016.

Using entirely British engineering and software capabilities, the companies will adapt electric passenger shuttles, or ‘pods’, currently in service at Heathrow Airport.

The pods, which have carried 1.5m passengers and travelled 3m kilometres, will be adapted to operate without tracks and autonomously navigate the streets of Greenwich.

Westfield Sportscars will be responsible for manufacturing and testing of the pods. Heathrow Enterprise will design the software, while Oxbotica will provide mapping and other sensors to ensure the vehicles are safe.

According to the BBC, the pods will have three months of testing, first with invited users and then with the general public. Each pod can carry six passengers but will require a steward to be present at all times to press the emergency button in the case of a problem.

The £8m GATEway project (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) is jointly funded by Innovate UK and industry. Led by TRL, GATEway will investigate public perception, reaction and engagement with a range of different types of automated vehicles.

The shuttle trial, which is one of three automated vehicle tests within the GATEway project, will investigate public acceptance of automated shuttle vehicles within the urban mobility landscape. Other trials will include autonomous valet parking and automated deliveries.

Professor Nick Reed, academy director at TRL and technical director for GATEway, said: “The addition of three prominent and respected British organisations to the GATEway consortium further strengthens the UK’s position as a leader in autonomous technologies.

“Each company brings a great deal of experience to the project which will prove valuable in helping us to understand how the public and industry will adapt to the use of automated vehicles in the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab test environment in Greenwich.

“If the trials prove successful, we expect these iconic vehicles to become a familiar sight in many cities around the world.”