World first puts Midlands in the driverless driving seat

The UK Autodrive project involved Tata Motors and Aurrigo, demonstrating connected and autonomous vehicles (Credit: Fabio De Paola/PA Wire)

The Midlands has put itself in the driving seat for the development of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) with the world’s first multi-CAV demonstration.

It is the culmination of a £20m government-funded project, UK Autodrive, which has brought together experts in a consortium that includes Jaguar Land Rover, Coventry City Council, Aurrigo, Horiba MIRA and Gowling WLG.

Jim O’Boyle, Councillor at Coventry City Council, with connected Tata Motors and Ford vehicles at Coventry Transport Museum (Credit: Fabio De Paola/PA Wire)

Coventry has been at the heart of three days of demonstrations as a project to trial connected and autonomous vehicles – often described as driverless cars, although that is just one aspect of the technology – comes to a close.

The project is developing ways to make roads safer and less congested, air cleaner, and commutes simpler and more efficient. It is the largest of three projects to have emerged from the Government’s Introducing Driverless Cars competition in 2015.

The Government has the ambition to see driverless cars on the road by 2021, and wants to make the UK a top destination for future investment and CAV research and development. It has been estimated that the CAV market could be worth £900m by 2035.

Jesse Norman, the Future of Mobility minister, said: “We are on the cusp of an exciting and profound change in how people, goods and services move around the country which is set to be driven by extraordinary innovation. UK Autodrive is helping put the UK at the forefront of that change.”

The trials took place in Coventry, Milton Keynes and on the Horiba MIRA test track. Part of the demonstration saw a prototype self-driving Range Rover Sport complete the first ever self-driving lap of one of the UK’s most challenging road layouts. A prototype self-driving Range Rover Sport handled the complex Coventry Ring Road, successfully changing lanes, merging with traffic and exiting junctions at the speed limit of 40mph.

“UK Autodrive has been a hugely successful project that was delivered on time and on budget,” said Arup’s Tim Armitage, project director of UK Autodrive.

“The real advances that the UK Autodrive partners have developed and which we have demonstrated will be shaping the next generation of vehicles, the roads, regulations and safeguards needed to accommodate them, and the people using them.”

A Ford connected vehicle demonstrating Green Light Optimal Speed Advisory in Coventry (Credit: Fabio De Paola/PA Wire)

UK Autodrive has also investigated other aspects of automated driving, including safety and cyber-security, legal and insurance issues, public acceptance and customer interaction, and the potential business models for turning autonomous driving systems into a widespread reality.

Aurrigo, which is the autonomous vehicle division of RDM Group, supplied two pods for the first demonstration outside Coventry Transport Museum. Today a whale of its pods are set to complete the first-ever fully autonomous journey as part of a preview event for the UK Autodrive International CAV Conference.

Partners, stakeholders and journalists will be driven in a Jaguar Land Rover connected car to a dedicated pick-up point, with the vehicle communicating to the pods to tell them to pick up their passengers. From there, up to four people will get into their allocated Pod Zero and be taken directly to Milton Keynes’ train station.

Coventry-based Aurrigo has used the UK Autodrive programme to develop its autonomous control systems and to refine the design of its pods. It has also sealed two international distribution agreements with partners in Singapore and Vietnam to start selling its vehicles into Asia.

“Being involved as the lead partner in UK Autodrive has transformed our business and given us the opportunity to test our technology alongside some of the world’s largest manufacturers in Jaguar Land Rover, TATA and Ford,” said Miles Garner, sales and marketing director at Aurrigo.

An Aurrigo vehicle on the move

“The trials in Milton Keynes have proved we have advanced autonomous technology that works in a live public environment and pods that can provide that crucial first and last mile transport solution for towns and cities throughout the world.”

Aurrigo employs 80 people in the UK and its international offices in Australia, Canada and the United States. It has taken on 12 staff to deliver the UK Autodrive project and will shortly be embarking on an international marketing drive to promote Pod Zero.

Garner added: “We need to take advantage of being first to market and we are already in discussions with a number of potential customers to take our pods for use on University campuses, theme parks, shopping malls and retirement villages.

“The potential is huge and we are projecting a substantial increase in turnover that could run to tens of millions over the next three years.”