London trials to assess public attitudes towards driverless vehicles

Gateway project driverless shuttle (image courtesy of TRL)

Gateway project driverless shuttle (image courtesy of TRL)

As the UK seeks to become a world leader in connected and autonomous vehicles, a number of trials are taking place to help bring driverless vehicles to Britain’s roads. 

One of these – the GATEway Project (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) – today entered a new phase when its prototype driverless shuttle began to navigate a 2km route around London’s Greenwich Peninsula, whilst carrying members of the public.

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.
— Professor Nick Reed, Academy Director, TRL

Using advanced sensors and autonomous software to detect and avoid obstacles, the shuttle will carry passengers taking part in the GATEway Project, a research programme led by TRL and funded by government and industry.

Although the driverless vehicle is the UK’s first fully automated shuttle, the focus of the study will not be on the technology itself, but on assessing how it functions alongside people in a natural environment.

The trial will also explore people’s preconceptions about driverless vehicles and seek to understand potential barriers to their acceptance through interviews with participants. 

The GATEway Project aims to demonstrate the use of automated vehicles for ‘last mile’ mobility, connecting existing transport hubs with residential and commercial areas.

“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,” said Professor Nick Reed, Academy Director at TRL.

“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.”

Climate Change and Industry Minister Nick Hurd said: “The UK has a history of innovation in the auto sector and this type of technology has the potential to save lives as well as offer freedom to the elderly or those with mobility impairments.” 

This exciting latest phase of the GATEway project is a significant step into the deployment and public acceptance of driverless vehicles
— Roland Meister, Innovate UK

Roland Meister, Head of Automotive, Aerospace and Autonomous Vehicles at Innovate UK said: “This exciting latest phase of the GATEway project is a significant step into the deployment and public acceptance of driverless vehicles, clearly identified as a priority by the recent House of Lords inquiry.”

The shuttle uses Oxbotica’s Selenium autonomy software to navigate its real-world environment. The software is a vehicle-agnostic autonomy system designed for use across a range of platforms, from low-speed shuttles to high-speed road vehicles.

The GATEway shuttle trial is one of a number of tests being conducted as part of the wider project to help understand the use, perception and acceptance of automated vehicles in the UK.

As part of their work, researchers are also testing automated urban deliveries and using simulators to investigate how human drivers respond and adapt their behaviour to the presence of automated vehicles on the roads.


 

The GATEway Project driverless shuttle

  • The prototype shuttle, ‘Harry’, is named in honour of John Harrison – an engineer who developed timepieces that enabled accurate navigation at sea, using Greenwich as a reference point
  • During eight hours of operation, a single GATEway shuttle will collect four terabytes of data – the equivalent of 2,000 hours of film or more than a million photos
  • The shuttle is designed to operate without a human driver and has no steering wheel or controls, but a safety steward will be on board throughout the trial to comply with the UK’s code of practice on automated vehicle testing.
 

Rob Wallis, CEO at TRL, said: “Today we are seeing a major industry shift towards the electrification and connectivity of vehicles, the use of shared mobility schemes, and the development of driverless vehicle technologies. 

“TRL believes that the existing close partnership between UK Government and British businesses focused on connected and autonomous vehicles is critical to ensure the UK plays its role as a major global innovator within this market disruption. 

“GATEway is a great example of where we can all learn more about how people understand, and respond to, the introduction of driverless vehicles.”

As companies around the world gear up to test autonomous transport systems, a number of driverless shuttle trials have been announced in recent months – including those in Paris, New Zealand and South Australia.

Car manufacturers are also carrying out tests of driverless vehicle technology, with Nissan recently choosing London to carry out the first European on-road testing of its autonomous drive technology.