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Driverless vehicle successfully navigates through the busy streets of Milton Keynes



The UK Autodrive project which is led by Arup and supported by Transport Systems Catapult (TSC) has been using public roads in Milton Keynes, to explore how connected and autonomous vehicles could reduce congestion and improve safety on UK roads.

A prototype Range Rover sport capable of Level 4 autonomy, meaning it’s theoretically able to perform all safety-critical driving functions, travelled a set route from the TSC’s offices past the city’s main shopping centre, demonstrating its ability to cope with other traffic, pedestrians, traffic lights, roundabouts. 

The vehicle was followed by a human driven car which protected it and its expensive sensors, from any risk of being rear-ended. 

Despite being carried out during a week when an autonomous Uber car was involved in a fatal collision (questioning the safety of autonomous vehicles) those involved in these UK trials say the public response has been largely positive.

Despite being autonomous the car is still over seen by a test driver
A number of journalists were invited to ride in the driverless vehicle and the car appeared to be at times a bit too polite. They noticed that the vehicles were driving cautiously leaving large stopping distances between the vehicle in front and coping with “interesting” manoeuvres by human-driven vehicles.

Reflecting on the trials Jim O’Donohuge, JLR autonomous vehicle research engineer, has said that Milton Keynes is an excellent test-bed: “The gird-like nature is great. The traffic lights are great – each four entry and exit points get their own go so we’re not having to give way to traffic which helps us out a bit. The dual carriageways are also an interesting element, as the car’s having to cope with a lot of information around.”

Alongside JLR’s trials, the Autodrive consortium partners have also been exploring a range of closer to market applications for connectivity technology, using DSRC (dedicated short-range communications) – a low latency, high speed wireless communications technology similar to wifi – to push the boundaries of vehicle to vehicle communication.

The trials demonstrated how the cars could communicate with each other to notify drivers of available parking spaces – without the need for any additional parking bay sensors. Connected vehicles also have an Electronic Emergency Brake light (EEBL) feature which gives warning when another connected car further up the road brakes heavily – potentially giving drivers several additional seconds to avoid a possible collision.

An Emergency Vehicle warning system was also demonstrated during the trial. A system which displays information on the location of an emergency vehicle before the driver sees or hears it. According to Dennis Witt, a research engineer with Ford, ambulance drivers involved in the trials were pleased with the system.
Autodrive followed in a vehicle which was human driven
“Connected and autonomous vehicles are expected to bring a large number of social benefits, from improved road safety to an easing of traffic congestion due in part by a reduction in accidents. The possible benefits in terms of parking should also not be overlooked,” said Tim Armitage, Arup’s UK Autodrive project director.

Vehicle connectivity technologies are much closer to production than fully autonomous vehicles, but the situation has been described as something of a chicken and egg, with the technology only likely to yield benefits once a critical mass of vehicles are on the road. Autodrive has a key aim of identifying the saturation point. “You only need one of four or five cars in front of you to have the capability for it to work” said Witt. 

Autodrive finishes at the end of this year.  A trial of a fleet up to 40 low-speed self-driving ‘pod’ vehicles set to take part in pedestrianised areas of Milton Keynes this summer with a final set of demonstrations, involving both passenger vehicles and pods scheduled to be held in the autumn.

Tags: Automotive
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Driverless vehicle successfully navigates through the busy streets of Milton Keynes - Time to read 4 min
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