UK trial sees self-driving vehicles mix with public for first time

A driver checks their mobile phone while holding a coffee

As competition to bring driverless cars to the roads increases around the world, the first self-driving vehicles have been tested in public in the UK

The demonstration of a UK-developed autonomous driving system took place in Milton Keynes, where a self-driving vehicle, developed by the Transport Systems Catapult (TSC), drove itself on pavements around the city’s train station and business district.

Driverless vehicles are coming to Britain and what we have demonstrated today is a huge step on that journey
— Neil Fulton, Programme Director, the Transport Systems Catapult

The trial marked the conclusion of the TSC’s LUTZ Pathfinder Project, which has been developing the technology for the last 18 months.

“This public demonstration represents a major milestone for autonomous vehicles in the UK,” said Neil Fulton, Programme Director at the TSC.

The self-driving vehicle used in the trial runs on software called Selenium, developed at Oxford University. 

To help the car navigate, Selenium uses data gathered from on-board cameras and LIDAR – a sensor system that scans its surroundings using lasers.

The software was integrated into the electric vehicle by Oxbotica, a company founded by two leaders of Oxford University’s Mobile Robotics Group.

“Oxford University’s technology will go on to power automated vehicles around the world and the LUTZ Pathfinder project will now feed into a much wider programme of autonomous trials across the UK,” said Fulton. 

“Driverless vehicles are coming to Britain and what we have demonstrated today is a huge step on that journey.”

Oxbotica CEO Graeme Smith said that the company’s software provides vehicles with the level of intelligence required to operate safely in pedestrianised urban areas. 

video showing Oxbotica’s autonomous vehicle technology in action

“Today’s LUTZ pathfinder trial is a landmark step to bringing self-driving vehicles to the streets of the UK and the world,” he said.

Ahead of the demonstration, the project team carried out virtual mapping of Milton Keynes and worked with the city’s council to conduct the necessary safety planning and establish regulations for the trial.

The TSC’s Automated Transport Systems team will continue to research the challenges of increased automation in transport, while promoting the benefits of additional technology.

The UK Government is determined that Britain will become a global leader in developing driverless technology. 

Earlier this year, it proposed a series of new measures to support this aim, including updates that would allow automated vehicles to be insured for use on public roads.