Gateway driverless shuttle trials start in Greenwich

Driverless shuttle in Greenwich

Autonomous vehicles will be driving round the complex urban environment of Greenwich in London following the start this week of the latest phase of the Gateway Project, which is researching public acceptance of, and attitudes towards, driverless vehicles.

The trials are not about robotising existing forms of transport, such as the car, but examining ways to optimise mobility for the urban environment using new modes of transport enabled by automation.

In the latest phase, a prototype shuttle will begin driverless navigation of a 2km route around the Greenwich Peninsula, using sensors and autonomy software to detect and avoid obstacles while carrying members of the public participating in the research study.

The project is led by TRL and funded by government and industry. It aims to demonstrate the use of automated vehicles for last-kilometre mobility, seamlessly connecting existing transport hubs with residential and commercial areas using a zero emission, low noise transport system. Research findings from the project will guide the wider roll out of automated vehicle technology in all forms of surface transport, including cars, lorries and buses.

The focus of the study is not the technology but how it functions alongside peoplein a natural environment. This first trial will explore people’s pre-conceptions of driverless vehicles and barriers to acceptance through detailed interviews with participants before and after they ride in the shuttle.

The project aims to provide sociological insight into what is expected to be the most profound change in mobility since the invention of the internal combustion engine.

The prototype shuttle, dubbed Harry (in honour of navigation visionary John Harrison, an engineer who developed timepieces that enabled accurate navigation at sea and for which Greenwich was the reference point), uses an autonomy software system called Selenium, which enables real-time, robust navigation, planning, and perception in dynamic environments.

“This research is another milestone in the UK’s journey towards driverless vehicles and a vital step towards delivering safer, cleaner and more effective transport in our cities,” said Nick Reed, academy director at TRL. “It is critical that the public are fully involved as these technologies become a reality. The Gateway Project is enabling us to discover how potential users of automated vehicles respond to them so that the anticipated benefits to mobility can be maximised. We see automated vehicles as a practical solution to delivering safe, clean, accessible and affordable last-mile mobility. I’m hugely proud of the work that has been undertaken in preparing for these tests and excited to move on to public testing.”

Developed by British companies Westfield Sportscars, Heathrow Enterprises and Oxbotica, the shuttle has no steering wheel or typical driver controls; Harry is the UK’s first fully automated shuttle vehicle. Over an eight-hour period of operation, a single Gateway shuttle will collect 4Tbyte of data.

To navigate this complex real-world environment, the shuttle will use Oxbotica’s Selenium autonomy software, which is vehicle-agnostic, sensor-agnostic autonomy software for a wide range of platforms from low-speed shuttles to high-speed road vehicles.

The system uses onboard sensors, such as cameras and lasers, to locate itself in its map, perceive and track dynamic obstacles around it, and plan a safe obstacle-free trajectory to the goal. It does this without any reliance on GPS. High data-rate 3D laser range finders are used for obstacle detection and tracking, and an additional safety curtain is used for redundancy to increase safety.

While the Gateway vehicle is designed to operate without a human driver, a safety steward will remain on-board at all times, complying with the UK’s code of practice on automated vehicle testing.

The project builds on more than fifty years of research into automated vehicles by TRL and operates within the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab at Greenwich. The lab is part of a long-term commitment led by TRL in partnership with Royal Borough of Greenwich to attract inward investment and create a compelling route to market for innovators.

“Driverless cars are the technology of the future and the Gateway project will help the automotive industry and the public gain a much clearer insight and understanding in how this tech can work for them, and for future generations,” said councillor Denise Hyland, leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich. “It is also helping Royal Greenwich to understand the opportunities and implications for the borough and how we need to adapt to capitalise on those opportunities. I am immensely proud that Greenwich is hosting this trial, which further consolidates the Royal Borough’s position as a living lab for smart mobility in the heart of the capital, and a leader in smart city innovation.”

He described the start of public trials as “incredibly exciting” and said he hoped the public and Greenwich residents who took part in the trials would enjoy the experience and help look at how to address some of the problems that modern cities face in terms of personal transport use.

The shuttle trial is one of a number of trials taking place as part of the project to help understand the use, perception and acceptance of automated vehicles in the UK. Others trials include automated urban deliveries, remote teleoperation demonstrations, exploring how automated vehicle systems work for people with additional travel needs, and high-fidelity simulator tests to investigate how drivers of regular vehicles respond and adapt their behaviour to the presence of automated vehicles on the roads.

Gateway is one of three projects awarded by Innovate UK; the other two are UK Autodrive in Coventry and Milton Keynes, and Venturer in Bristol.

“This exciting latest phase of the Gateway project is a significant step into the deployment and public acceptance of driverless vehicles, clearly identified as a priority by the recent House of Lords inquiry,” said Roland Meister from Innovate UK.

Gateway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) is an £8m research project, led by TRL and jointly funded by government and industry, to understand and overcome the technical, legal and societal challenges of implementing automated vehicles in an urban environment.

Established in 1933 within the British government as the UK's Transport Research Laboratory, TRL has become a global centre for innovation in transport and mobility. It helps organisations create global transport systems that are safe, clean, affordable, liveable and efficient. TRL was privatised in 1996. Today, it has more than 1000 clients across 145 countries.

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