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UK Shifts its Self-Driving Car Research Into a Higher Gear

Tags three consortia to figure out how to get robocars onto British roads

2 min read
UK Shifts its Self-Driving Car Research Into a Higher Gear
Self-driving LUTZ Pathfinder pods for footpaths will be among the vehicles tested.
Image: Transport Systems Catapult

British efforts aimed at developing self-driving cars are likely to speed up with the announcement of the four UK locations where driverless cars will be tested. The tests, which begin in January, will last as long as 36 months. The government announced £9 million (US $14 million) in funding for the work—on top of the £10m that was committed to the project in July. The funds will support three consortia (one of which will conduct its tests in two places in the same region).

Greenwich, in southeast London, will be the site of the Gateway project run by the Transport Research Laboratory, General Motors, and the AA and RAC motoring associations. The group will examine what it will take to field automated passenger shuttles and try out technology designed to enable autonomous valet parking. Just as important will be the group’s study of how human drivers handle the transition from being in control of a vehicle to letting a car’s computer’s handle the driving.

"The combination of TRL's independent expertise; robust, reliable testing protocols and driving simulation facilities alongside the diverse and high calibre qualities of our consortium means we can safely demonstrate automated vehicles to build acceptance and trust in this revolutionary technology," TRL's chief executive, Rob Wallis, told the BBC.

Bristol is home to the Venturer consortium, whose membership includes several local government councils plus Atkins, the insurance company AXA, Williams Advanced Engineering, Fusion Processing, the Center for Transport and Society, the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), the University of Bristol, and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory. They’ll figure out whether robocars can reduce congestion and make roads safer. Another important research focus will be assessing public reaction to autonomous vehicles and, because an insurer is in the group, determining who to hold responsible in the event of a collision.

Roads in Milton Keynes and Coventry will be used by the UK Autodrive program, whose leading members are Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, and the engineering consultancy Arup. The group has plans to test self-driving cars on roads, and automated shuttle pods in areas designated mainly for foot traffic. One of its goals will be to create the additions to road infrastructure that will be necessary to give cars’ onbard navigation systems pinpoint accuracy.

“Our plan with the practical demonstration phases is to start testing with single vehicles on closed roads, and to build up to a point where all road users, as well as legislators, the police and insurance companies, are confident about how driverless pods and fully and partially autonomous cars can operate safely on UK roads,” Tim Armitage from Arup told BBC.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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