With Greenwich recently being announced as the location for smart city trials, it should perhaps come as no surprise that it will also be the first location in London to trial driverless ‘pod’ cars!
Although already being used at Heathrow Airport, the pods will be the first independent (i.e. driver-free) vehicles to take on the streets of the UK’s capital. Heathrow Terminal 5 has used the driverless pods for a period of five years now and it is reported that during this time 1.5 million passengers have been carried by them and they have travelled a distance of 1.8 million miles.
The pod cars have been developed by theGATEway Group under the GATEway project (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment), which is an £8 million project aiming to explore and develop the benefits and implementation of automated vehicles.
The pods will need to have a few adaptations to make them Greenwich-ready, with the key focus being adapting them so that they don’t have to run on tracks.
Taking on the challenge of adaptation are:
1. Westfield Sportscars – a manufacturer of factory built and kit versions of open top sportscars. The company will be responsible for manufacturing and testing the driverless pods.
2. Heathrow Enterprise – will be responsible for designing the pod’s software.
3. Oxbotica – a specialist in mobile autonomy, navigation and perception software and innovation. The company will be responsible for providing the pod’s mapping software and sensors.
Greenwich will see seven of these driverless pods based on the Greenwich Peninsula for a period of three months. It is thought the pods will be trialled on the residential streets and surrounding areas of the O2 Arena.
The pods, which can carry up to six people, will, to begin with, only be tested by ‘invited’ users but then the plan is to open up the testing stage to the general public. It is worth noting that one passenger in each pod will also be a ‘steward’, whose job is to hit the pod’s emergency button if ever there was a problem with the pod.
Driverless vehicles are quite the invention of the moment, with a large number of global tech and motoring companies focusing on developing their own prototypes, including Google, Tesla and Ford. There’s even talk that Apple is trying to develop its own autonomous vehicle!
The term ‘vehicle’ tends to be used over and above ‘car’ because the planned autonomy is not just being introduced into small pods and cars. Indeed driverless buses which can carry up to nine passengers are under development in Switzerland and the Netherlands is already testing autonomous shuttles on its roads.
The trial in Greenwich is the first of many in the UK, with plans to take trials of driverless cars to Milton Keynes, Bristol and Coventry later on in 2016.