The goal of having self-driving vehicles on the roads took a major step forward recently, after an initial demonstration of an autonomous fleet in a complex urban environment was carried out in London.
Stratford was the site of this ground-breaking experiment, where a Ford Mondeo, equipped with autonomous technology provided by the British tech company Oxbotica, successfully operated on public roads.
The week-long demonstration was held in the vicinity of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, overseen by the Driven programme. A partly government financed consortium, which is working for two and a half years, at a cost of over thirteen and a half million pounds to develop autonomous vehicle (AV) technology.
The Driven consortium is comprised of experts if the field of data and cyber-security, insurers and local authority planners, working in conjunction with Oxbotica. They have been carrying out experiments at its home base in Oxford, studying what is referred to as the AV ecosystem, where they will examine any potential issues, such as communication technology or hackers, amongst others.
The Driven project strictly follows the Department for Transport’s Code of Practice, alongside a London-centric guide for Connected and Autonomous Trials, published by TfL or Transport for London, a local government body which oversees the transport system in the capital.
They were behind the demo, designed to highlight what self-driving vehicles can do, and how they can handle day to day situations, by driving around busy public roads around the Olympic Park. It was carried out to illustrate how autonomous vehicles can run smoothly, and in compliance with safety laws.
For the moment, the `driverless cars` are not actually unmanned, as they are controlled with a safety driver in the front. Where the tech can determine when the driver needs to step in if the car gets into trouble.
During one demonstration, a mostly autonomous drive around residential areas, intersections and A-roads, the safety driver only had to take control of the vehicle once, as a precaution.
All in all, the demo was considered a major step forward in having driverless cars on British streets. There are still many things to take care of, from the ongoing secure communication, product liability insurers, cybersecurity and risk assessment. Some feel it may be a minimum of five years before we see driverless cars being used as so-called robot taxis and a decade before you could pick up an AV in a car showroom.
However, Oxbotica has just announced it is collaborating with Addison Lee, a noted private hire firm in London, in developing self-driving vehicles, to have them on the roads by 2021, where trials could begin as early as next year.
What was once a dream, or considered science fiction, appears to be becoming closer to reality, where autonomous vehicles may soon be an everyday sight on UK roads.