A new consortium of British companies is planning to deploy a fleet of fully autonomous vehicles on urban roads and motorways within the next two-and-a-half years.
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The Driven consortium, which has just been awarded an £8.6m grant from the Innovate UK-backed Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, hopes to drive a vehicle operating at Level 4 autonomy from London to Oxford in the culmination of the 30-month project.
Level 4 autonomy means the vehicle will have the ability to perform all safety-critical driving functions and roadway monitoring for the duration of the trip, with zero-passenger occupancy. If the plan comes to fruition, the consortium members claimed, it will be the first time such a high-level autonomous vehicle has ever been attempted.
“No company, group or consortium of autonomy experts has ever attempted what Driven is planning over the next 30 months,” said Graeme Smith, chief executive of artificial intelligence platform developer Oxbotica, which is taking a leading role in the consortium.
The Driven consortium also includes Oxford University’s Oxford Robotics Institute, re-insurer XL Catlin, Nominet, mobile network O2, TRL, the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s Remote Applications in Challenging Environments facility, Oxfordshire County Council, Transport for London and Westbourne Communications.
“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,” said Smith
The Driven team will explore how to remove a number of barriers to the real-world adoption of autonomous vehicles, including effective communication and data sharing, insurance and risk modelling, and cyber security challenges.
Its initial work will see six inter-communicating vehicles equipped with Oxbotica’s vehicle manufacturer-agnostic software platform, Selenium, which gathers data on a car’s location and surroundings and uses that information to guide it towards completing its task.
“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,” said Paul Newman, head of the Oxford Robotics Institute, and a co-founder of Oxbotica.
Other aspects of the project, such as supplying a connectivity framework and meeting network infrastructure challenges, will be met by Nominet; the Atomic Energy Authority will make testing facilities available at its Culham site; and XL Catlin, along with transport research lab TRL, will explore the integration of insurance and vehicle interaction with traffic management systems.
Llewelyn Morgan, service manager of infrastructure, innovation and development for communities at Oxfordshire County Council, said the council was already hoping to play a leading role in the development of innovative modes of transport.
“We have already adopted a pioneering vision of how intelligent mobility will play a key role in supporting the growth of Oxfordshire,” he said.
“The sort of technology 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 work.”