Oxford Mobile Robotics Group powered self-driving pods win national innovation award

A ground-breaking research programme which will trial three self-driving vehicles on pedestrianised areas of Milton Keynes has won this year’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) Automotive Award for Innovation.

The LUTZ Pathfinder project saw off competition from four other shortlisted contenders to pick up the prestigious trophy at Tuesday night’s 99th SMMT Annual Dinner.

 Overseen by the Transport Systems Catapult on behalf of the UK Automotive Council, LUTZ Pathfinder is a collaborative project involving Coventry-based manufacturers RDM Group, the University of Oxford’s Mobile Robotics Group (MRG) and Milton Keynes Council.

The three electric-powered pods will be used not only to trial the technology involved in operating self-driving vehicles, but also to assess public response to the pods in a real-world setting.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said, “The quality of entries was extremely high and judging was tough but we were agreed that the Transport Systems Catapult should be recognised for its work in helping put Britain at the forefront of connected and driverless vehicle development. The LUTZ Pathfinder trial is not only an innovation in itself but will provide invaluable data, experience and learning for the whole sector.”

The SMMT Award for Automotive Innovation demonstrates the wealth of design and engineering talent in the UK automotive sector by rewarding UK-developed technologies that have the potential to benefit the UK’s automotive industry. The award is now in its sixth year, with previous winners including Torotrak Group, Gordon Murray Design, Jaguar Land Rover, Optare and Ford.

“This is a massive honour for the Transport Systems Catapult and for all our partners on the LUTZ Pathfinder project,” said Transport Systems Catapult CEO Steve Yianni after receiving the award on behalf of the project team.

Professor Paul Newman of Oxford MRG, which is providing and developing the ‘Mercury’ autonomy system used by the pods said: “This is a very good thing. It’s great to see such a complex and ambitious project being recognised like this. The LUTZ program is an ideal platform on which to trial, integrate and demonstrate ‘Mercury’. We are all privileged to receive this award.”

The first LUTZ Pathfinder pod is currently at Oxford MRG for the integration of the autonomous control system. The Milton Keynes trials are due to start in early 2016 – at first in manual mode, before being switched to automated driving. A trained human operator will remain in each pod for the duration of the trial, ready to take control of the vehicle if necessary.

The same general design will be used as part of the UK Autodrive Project in Milton Keynes.  Oxbotica – a spin-out of Oxford University’s Mobile Robotics Group responsible for commercialising this innovative new technology – will develop the Mercury Autonomous Control System and integrate it into a fleet of 40 pods that will be operational in 2017 as a part of the UK’s Driverless Car Challenge.

SMMT Award for Automotive Innovation 2015 shortlisted entries:

  • WINNER: Transport Systems Catapult – LUTZ Pathfinder project
  • HIGHLY COMMENDED: Leyland Trucks – Future truck chassis concept
  • HIGHLY COMMENDED: Oxford Advanced Surfaces – Onto adhesion
  • Evolute Drives – Msys Transmission
  • ZeroLight – Digital 3D car configurator

(Picture credits:  Eureka Magazine:  http://www.eurekamagazine.co.uk/design-engineering-news/lutz-project-wins-smmt-award/110509/)