First public trials in the UK of self-driving vehicles taking place on the streets of Milton Keynes


The first trials of a self-driving vehicle in a UK public space are currently taking place on the streets of Milton Keynes, as the Transport Systems Catapult’s LUTZ Pathfinder pod starts real-world testing.

The Transport Systems Catapult (TSC) is conducting real-world tests of its self-driving vehicles in public for the first time in the UK. The demonstration of the UK-developed LUTZ Pathfinder Project’s autonomous pod follows 18 months of development and preparation, including the virtual 3D mapping of test routes in Milton Keynes, assessing public acceptance, conducting safety planning, and establishing the regulatory environment with the support of Milton Keynes Council.

Built by the Coventry-based RDM Group, and controlled by Selenium autonomous software developed by Oxford University’s Robotics Institute and integrated by its spinoff company Oxbotica, the electric vehicle uses data taken from multiple cameras and lidar scanner systems to navigate its way around the environment. The demonstration is taking place on pavements and open public spaces around Milton Keynes railway station and central business district, where future trials will assess its suitability for local transport in urban areas.

“This public demonstration represents a major milestone for autonomous vehicles in the UK and the culmination of an extensive project involving UK companies and experts,” said Neil Fulton, program director at the TSC. “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 program of autonomous trials across the UK.

“Through the LUTZ Pathfinder project we have started to create a world leading urban testbed for connected and automated vehicles. We can now capitalize on the unique position of having the environment and the development platform to conduct further research and trials. To that end we have started work building an automated vehicle test and integration facility, which will enable other UK universities and SMEs to work with the Catapult on new self-driving technology.”

Paul Newman, professor of information engineering at Oxford University and co-founder of Oxbotica, said, “It’s great to see our research ideas having a life of their own beyond the lab and being used in public, for the public. Our work with the TSC has given us the opportunity to accelerate the development of our system into the public domain, and has given us a platform from which we can now take our expertise onto the world stage.”

The UK government’s Business and Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, said, “The first public trials of driverless vehicles in our towns is a ground-breaking moment, and further evidence that Britain is at the forefront of innovation. The global market for autonomous vehicles presents huge opportunities for our automotive and technology firms. And the research that underpins the technology and software will have applications way beyond autonomous vehicles.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).