UK telecoms operator and partners bring 5G ‘super-connected’ self-driving PODs to Leeds


Leeds is to become the latest city in the UK to test autonomous vehicles, following an announcement that telecommunications company Aql, Gulf Oil, and a consortium of partners, plan to trial self-driving POD shuttles in in the city center later this year.

Aql’s vehicles will be based on the Westfield POD (Pods on Demand), a proven platform chosen to allow innovation in autonomy, which has already been used in the Greenwich GATEway project in London. The super-connected PODs will be deployed in a controlled environment on the city’s South Bank and Aql will be conducting real-world testing of newly developed software systems. Aql’s mobile operator division holds 5G test licenses in the UK and the company is currently building the supporting infrastructure behind 5G in Leeds. Aql, with 20 years of experience in cybersecurity, will manage the vehicles’ safety controls and then open the platform to the developer community to allow further innovation.

The project partners say the autonomous technology has the potential to reshape public transport and reduce congestion, commute times and pollution, while also improving passenger and pedestrian safety. The initiative is part of a wider program and comes out of a wider consortium that includes Aql, Gulf, the University of Leeds, Leeds and Bradford city councils, real-estate developer Citu, and parking operator CitiPark, to look at how to layer autonomous vehicles into the city.

“Until now, much of the software for autonomy has been driven by the automotive industry. We want to embrace other disciplines such as VR and gaming which have strong transferable spatial awareness skills to help innovate and create the next generation of smart city,” explained Prof. Adam Beaumont, founder and CEO of Aql. “Without this technology, driverless cars, for example, will simply join the traffic queues; we need cross-city communication and coordination via the next generation of mobile network technology to unlock the potential of driverless platforms. We see the Leeds South Bank as a blank canvas to create an integrated plan.”

Jonathan Turner, CEO of Bayford Group, said, “The Gulf brand is world-recognized as a leader and enabler in motorsport and transport, but our history is largely around fossil fuels. We are passionate about embracing the transition to renewable energy and continue to support innovation in electric transport and the next generation of autonomous transport. I have a vision for enabling the future of motorsport and transport while minimizing our impact on the planet.”

Ben Ziff, managing director of CitiPark, commented, “We like to be at the forefront of innovation in transportation, pushing the boundaries and looking for the next big innovative technology and sustainable transport. So, we are delighted to be part of the first cross-regional team of autonomous transport operators to launch this incredible prototype. We are very excited to be working with Aql, NorthInvest and Westfield Technology to launch this state-of-the-art autonomous vehicle, which will offer sustainable transport within urban areas around the UK. Our joint transport team will be focusing on this and other innovative ways to provide wider accessibility and safety for passengers around the UK going forward.”

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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).