UK project starts public acceptance trials of driverless vehicles in Greenwich

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Members of the public are being invited to test a fleet of driverless pods as part of a major research project led by the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), which is aiming to understand people’s perceptions of automated transport systems.

The trials mark the final phase of the GATEway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) Project, which is using a fleet of automated pods to understand public acceptance of and attitudes towards driverless vehicles. The study in the UK capital is unique due to its primary focus on people: throughout the project qualitative research has been conducted by TRL, the University of Greenwich, online consultation platform Commonplace, and the Royal College of Art, exploring how the public feels about using and sharing space with self-driving vehicles.

Over the next four weeks, visitors and residents at London’s Greenwich Peninsula will have the opportunity to engage with the new technology and share their experiences with the project team.

In this phase of the GATEway Project, four driverless pods will be navigating a 2.1 mile-long (3.4km) route around the Peninsula while carrying members of the public participating in the research study.

Although the GATEway vehicle is designed to operate without a human driver, a safety steward will remain onboard at all times, complying with the UK’s code of practice on autonomous vehicle testing. Over 5,000 people have already registered their interest in taking part in the final phase of the trial and will have priority booking for one of several journeys undertaken each day.

Developed by UK companies Westfield Sportscars and Heathrow Enterprises, and controlled by a state-of-the-art automation system created by Fusion Processing, the pods have no steering wheels or typical driver controls. Instead, Fusion’s CAVstar software combines GPS with radar (long range) and lidar (close range) to enable the pods to detect and safely negotiate objects in their path. This also allows the pods to operate in adverse weather conditions and even in the dark.

“As we explore the future of mobility solutions, it is essential that we consider the experience and benefits delivered to the consumer. This is why understanding and exploring the public perception of automated services has always been at the heart of the GATEway Project,” explained Richard Cuerden, academy director at TRL.

“This project is enabling us to discover how potential users of automated vehicles respond to them, in a real-world environment, so that the anticipated benefits to mobility can be maximized. We see driverless vehicles as a practical solution to delivering safe, clean, accessible and affordable mobility, and are proud to be part of creating our future transport system.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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