London’s GATEway project demonstrates remote autonomous operation for disabled drivers


The UK’s first demonstration of a teleoperated autonomous vehicle service for people with reduced mobility has been successfully completed as part of the GATEway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) project, led by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL).

Taking place at the InterContinental Hotel in the Royal Borough of Greenwich in London, and completed using an autonomous-enabled Toyota Prius, the demonstration marked the end of a fortnight of testing in which GATEway partners Gobotix and O2 were able to successfully demonstrate the remote operation of an unmanned vehicle. The demonstration aimed to show how near-market technology could benefit disabled and older drivers with limited mobility. Using proof of concept technology developed by Gobotix, a wheelchair user drove himself to his destination before disembarking. The driver then enlisted the support of a remote operator to park his vehicle using 3G and 4G cellular technology from telecommunications provider O2. For specific situations when cellular coverage would not be possible, such as underground parking lots, the user can also control the vehicle using an app on their own tablet device to maneuver or park it from a short distance using in-car wi-fi.

Automated vehicle technology has the potential to enhance mobility for people with additional travel needs, including those who are older or have disabilities. With fully automated, all-weather vehicles not expected to operate on UK roads for several years, Gobotix is focusing on what can be done now to drive more immediate benefits. The company’s remote technology is the product of more than two years’ development and works on many vehicles that have increasingly common electronic controls and sensors. Using forward facing sensors, the software interprets images and communicates with the vehicle’s systems to enable remote operation by a computer or smartphone. Connectivity is provided by a machine-to-machine sim that can tap in to any network and works on 3G and 4G, while the video feed on the vehicle is used to facilitate obstacle detection and adjust speed accordingly.

The system is the first of its kind for remote teleoperation and, unlike most autonomous technologies, will enable cars to be driven semi-autonomously in areas that have not been mapped. It also enables remote recovery of fully automated vehicles if something goes wrong, such as software faults or sensor breakdowns. Using the technology, a human operator can intervene to remotely navigate vehicles back to a safe location or state of operation.

“Everybody is waiting for the arrival of fully automated vehicles, but there’s a lot that vehicle manufacturers can be doing already with existing technology to help improve accessibility and mobility for older and disabled drivers,” noted Dr Ben Davis, technical director at Gobotix. “Many modern cars can be adapted so that they are driveable by a remote pilot, and what we’ve demonstrated as part of GATEway is proof of that. By offering a remote teleoperation service, we can remove common concerns around boarding and alighting. It’s about empowering those with reduced mobility to retain independence through the use of technology.”

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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).