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Government driverless car trial to adapt Heathrow car park 'pods'

Date: 29 January 2016   |   Author: Daniel Puddicombe

Driverless pods based on Heathrow's car park shuttle service - which runs on rails from terminal 5 - will be trialled on public roads from the summer as part of the Government's GATEway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) autonomous vehicle project. 

The West London airport, which currently uses pods to ferry passengers between T5 and one of Heathrow's car parks, has teamed up with small-scale kit-car maker Westfield and robotics group Oxbotica to develop the vehicles for the roads. 

The three parties have now joined the GATEway project. Westfield - better known for producing self-build sports cars - will adapt the battery-powered shuttles to run without rails, allowing them to navigate the streets of Greenwich, which is hosting the trials. 

Oxbotica, meanwhile, will deploy its mapping and trajectory planning software to direct the pods, while it will also oversee a cloud-based shuttle management system, allowing the vehicles to move as part of a self-governing ecosystem.

Oxbotica will also introduce smartphone booking, monitoring and reporting systems for the pods.

The £8m GATEway project is investigating public perception, reaction and engagement with a range of different types of automated vehicles. 

The South London scheme is part of the Government's £20m driverless car programme. Four towns and cities - Greenwich, Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes - are being used as testbeds for different types of self-driving vehicles, in an attempt to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of the autonomous vehicle development.
Other trials set to take place in the project include autonomous valet parking and automated deliveries.

"The GATEway project is a fantastic opportunity to seize on the potential of our leading-edge 'Ultra Pod' technology, which has already removed 70,000 bus journeys a year from Heathrow roads and the equivalent of 100 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year," said Steve Chambers, director of engineering and asset management at Heathrow airport.

Independently of the GATEway project - as reported by BusinessCar earlier this week - Greenwich is playing host to a 'smart' parking bay trial, as well as electric vehicle and robot delivery tests.