The first autonomous vehicle to run on UK public footpaths has been officially unveiled by the Transport Systems Catapult at a government launch event in Greenwich.

A prototype of the ‘LUTZ Pathfinder’ pods was presented to the media at the event, which was attended by Business Secretary Vince Cable and Transport Minister Claire Perry.

The electric-powered vehicles can seat two people and are designed to work on pavements and pedestrianized areas. They are being built by RDM Group, one of the UK’s fastest growing advanced engineering companies, and will be equipped with sensor and navigation technology provided by the University of Oxford’s Mobile Robotics Group.

Later this year, the pods will be tested in an “urban laboratory” using a route agreed with project partners Milton Keynes Council. This will be the first time driverless vehicles have been used in an urban community setting, and they will be gradually introduced following a series of tests in a safe, controlled, environment.

“Transforming how we travel”

“Technology such as driverless vehicles, intelligent phone apps, and social media, will transform how we travel in the future – making journeys safer, faster, and more connected,” said Transport Systems Catapult CEO Steve Yianni.

“Through the LUTZ Pathfinder programme, the Transport Systems Catapult has pioneered the introduction of driverless pods in Milton Keynes and the first ever tests in the UK will take place later this year in a controlled public environment. The UK is at the forefront of this emerging new technology and poised to become the leading supplier of autonomous vehicles and systems around the world.”

“Safety is a key benefit of driverless technology, which is particularly relevant given the global trends of an increasing and ageing population.”

Neil Fulton, programme director at the Transport Systems Catapult, also stressed that safety would be the “number one priority” throughout the duration of the trials.

“This is reflected in [the pod’s] features ranging from pedestrian protection, low vehicle speed and large external radii to deformable panels, 19 electronic sensors/cameras and an emergency stop.”

Transport Minister Claire Perry said: “Driverless cars are the future. These are still early days but today is an important step. I want Britain to be at the forefront of this exciting new development, to embrace a technology that could transform our roads and open up a brand new route for global investment.”

Scaling up

Wednesday’s event will also see the launch of the government’s regulatory review into the use of driverless vehicles on UK roads. There will also be presentations by the three consortia that have been selected to trial self-driving technology as part of the government’s ‘Introducing Driverless Cars’ competition.

As well as being the project lead for the LUTZ Pathfinder programme, the Transport Systems Catapult is also a partner in the £20M twin-city UK Autodrive consortium.

UK Autodrive will build on the findings of the LUTZ Pathfinder programme and scale this up to create a full city demonstrator that will eventually see public trials with a fleet of around 40 driverless pods using pedestrianized areas.

“The UK is at the cutting edge of automotive technology – from the all-electric cars build in Sunderland to the Formula One expertise in the Midlands,” said Mr Cable. “The projects we are now funding in Greenwich, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Coventry will help to ensure we are world leaders in this field and able to benefit from what is expected to be a £900 billion industry by 2025.”

Original source: Transport Systems Catapult