Today the GATEway Project begins research into public acceptance of, and attitudes towards, driverless vehicles. The trials, which will see an autonomous vehicle driving in a complex urban environment, is not about robotising existing forms of transport, such as the car, but is examining ways to optimise mobility for the urban environment using new modes of transport enabled by automation. In the latest phase of the GATEway Project (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) a prototype shuttle will begin driverless navigation of a 2km route around the Greenwich Peninsula, using advanced sensors and state-of-the-art autonomy software to detect and avoid obstacles whilst carrying members of the public participating in the research study.
The GATEway Project is a world-leading research programme, led by TRL and funded by government and industry. It aims to demonstrate the use of automated vehicles for ‘last mile’ mobility, seamlessly connecting existing transport hubs with residential and commercial areas using a zero emission, low noise transport system. Research findings from the project will guide the wider roll out of automated vehicle technology in all forms of surface transport, including cars, lorries and buses.
Uniquely, the focus of the study is not the technology but how it functions alongside people in a natural environment. This first trial will explore people’s pre-conceptions of driverless vehicles and barriers to acceptance through detailed interviews with participants before and after they ride in the shuttle. Residents and visitors to the Peninsula are invited to leave feedback via an interactive map. The project will not only see London and the UK emerge as a world leader in automated technology, but provide valuable sociological insight into what is expected to be the most profound change in mobility since the invention of the internal combustion engine.
The prototype shuttle, dubbed ‘Harry’ (in honour of navigation visionary John Harrison), uses a state-of-the-art autonomy software system, called Selenium (developed by Oxbotica) which enables realtime, robust navigation, planning, and perception in dynamic environments.
Dr Graeme Smith, CEO of Oxbotica said: “We are excited to be finally moving into public trials and demonstrations of our Selenium autonomy software in this unique vehicle. Our previous demonstrations have leveraged vehicles with traditional steering wheels and foot pedals, and this vehicle represents an enormous step forward on our journey of implementing real world Mobility as a Service capability in an operational fleet which can ultimately run without human intervention. Greenwich is an ideal focus for these trials in urban pedestrianised environments and we hope to learn tremendously from how autonomous vehicles interact with pedestrians and cyclists in real-world settings.”
Professor Nick Reed, Academy Director at TRL commented: “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. “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.”
Developed by British companies Westfield Sportscars, Heathrow Enterprises and Oxbotica, the shuttle has no steering wheel or typical driver controls, ‘Harry’ is the UK’s first fully automated shuttle vehicle. Over an eight-hour period of operation, a single GATEway shuttle will collect a massive four terabytes of data – equivalent to 2,000 hours of film or 1.2 million photographs.
To navigate this complex real-world environment, the shuttle will use Oxbotica’s Selenium autonomy software, which is a vehicle-agnostic, sensor-agnostic autonomy solution for a wide range of platforms (e.g., low-speed shuttles to high-speed road vehicles). The system uses onboard sensors, such as cameras and lasers, to locate itself in its map, perceive and track dynamic obstacles around it, and plan a safe obstacle-free trajectory to the goal. It does this without any reliance on GPS. High data-rate 3D laser range finders are used for obstacle detection and tracking, and an additional safety curtain is used for redundancy in order to maximise safety.
Whilst the GATEway vehicle is designed to operate without a human driver, a safety steward will remain on-board at all times, complying with the UK’s code of practice on automated vehicle testing. The GATEway Project builds on more than fifty years of research into automated vehicles by TRL and operates within the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab at Greenwich. Fast emerging as a world-class test bed and real-world environment for the development and validation of new mobility solutions enabled by connected and automated vehicle technology, the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab in Greenwich is part of a long-term commitment led by TRL in partnership with Royal Borough of Greenwich to attract inward investment and create a compelling route to market for innovators.
The shuttle trial is one of a number of trials taking place as part of the GATEway Project to help understand the use, perception and acceptance of automated vehicles in the UK. Others trials include automated urban deliveries, remote teleoperation demonstrations, exploring how automated vehicle systems work for people with additional travel needs, and high-fidelity simulator tests to investigate how drivers of regular vehicles respond and adapt their behaviour to the presence of automated vehicles on the roads.