Driverless car trials to start in summer, though roadgoing models 'a few years away'
15 March 2016
Author: Daniel Puddicombe
Fully autonomous vehicles are still "a few years away" thanks to the challenges of making them compatible with vehicles driven by humans.
This comes from Nick Reed, academy director at Transport Research Laboratory and the technical lead for the £8m Government-backed Gateway driverless car project, for which preliminary work has already started to take place in Greenwich, South-East London.
Speaking exclusively to BusinessCar, Reed explained that the "complexity of traffic, pedestrians, weather and the nature of the vehicles operating amongst regular, manually driven vehicles" means that driverless cars aren't going to be hitting the roads for several years.
Reed added that there are "still a few hurdles to overcome" and that it is "really critical to understand how automated vehicles can operate in a way that is compatible with human-driven vehicles", citing a recent incident in California where a driverless Google car collided with a bus.
Driverless pods (see picture above), based on Heathrow airport shuttles, will however be making their debut in Greenwich in the summer - albeit on pedestrianised pathways, rather than public roads, although Reed did indicate the possibility of the vehicles using private roads for small stretches.
According to Reed, the pods will be able to travel at speeds of up to 40kph (25mph), although TRL will be running them at 15kph (9.3mph) to comply with the code of practice for the testing of autonomous vehicles.
The vehicles will be able to seat six people and will run from 9am to 5pm on a single charge.
The eight vehicles in the test fleet will all have a 'steward' onboard, "to intervene if the vehicle is not behaving itself", with Gateway staff able to attach controls for a driver to manually move the vehicles in the event of a malfunction.
TRL is currently inviting participants to try the shuttles in order to assess how their attitudes towards automated vehicles change after a journey.
Reed told BusinessCar there will be a range of demographics represented during these early tests, including young people, commuters, disabled users and older travellers.
Following what Reed calls the 'invited testing phase' - which is expected to last between three and six months - Londoners will be able to hail the vehicles for free using a smartphone app.