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Public to trial first driverless shuttle bus in Greenwich

Aim of the trial is to see how autonomous vehicles get along with people in a natural environment

What will the public make of the autonomous shuttle?
What will the public make of the autonomous shuttle?

The GATEway Project (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) has begun valuable research into public acceptance of, and attitudes towards, driverless vehicles in London today.


A prototype shuttle, dubbed ‘Harry’ (in honour of navigation visionary John Harrison), will begin driverless navigation of a 2km route around the Greenwich Peninsula, which is a pedestrian/cycling area.


The GATEway Project is a world-leading research programme, led by TRL and funded by government and industry. It aims to demonstrate the use of automated vehicles for last mile 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 trial not only further strengthens London and the UK’s drive to become a leader in connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) technology, but provides valuable sociological insight into what many see as the most profound change in mobility since the invention of the internal combustion engine.


It seems to have caught the imagination of the public, with Oxbotica, the company responsible for the technology behind the shuttle, saying that 5, 000 people had applied to take part in the three week research.


Uniquely, the focus of the study is not the technology but how it functions alongside people in a natural environment. It 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. Residents and visitors to the Peninsula are invited to leave feedback via an interactive map.


Developed by British companies Westfield Sportscars, Heathrow Enterprises and Oxbotica, the shuttle has no steering wheel or typical driver controls, and as such is the UK’s first fully automated shuttle vehicle.


It seats four people at once and uses advanced sensors and a state-of-the-art autonomy software system, called Selenium. This enables real-time, robust navigation, planning, and perception in dynamic environments, enabling it to detect and avoid obstacles.


The vehicle travels up to 10mph, but during the trials will also have a trained person on board who can stop the vehicle if necessary.


Over an eight-hour period of operation, a single GATEway shuttle will collect a massive four terabytes of data – equivalent to 2,000 hours of film or 1.2 million photographs.


Dr Graeme Smith, CEO, Oxbotica said: “We are excited to be finally moving into public trials and demonstrations of our Selenium autonomy software in this unique vehicle. Our previous demonstrations have leveraged vehicles with traditional steering wheels and foot pedals, and this vehicle represents an enormous step forward on our journey of implementing real world Mobility as a Service capability in an operational fleet, which can ultimately run without human intervention.


“Greenwich is an ideal focus for these trials in urban pedestrianised environments and we hope to learn tremendously from how autonomous vehicles interact with pedestrians and cyclists in real-world settings.”


Professor Nick Reed, Academy Director, TRL commented: “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.


“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.”



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