UK Transport Minister experiences driverless technology in Milton Keynes

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The UK Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin (above left), has visited the Transport Systems Catapult’s Innovation Center in Milton Keynes to learn about the latest transport and intelligent mobility innovations being developed by the organization.

The Transport Minister met with the TSC’s CEO, Steve Yianni (above right), and was introduced to various new technologies being developed at the center, including social media sentiment mapping, virtual city planning, and the LUTZ Pathfinder driverless vehicle, which is currently being tested in the city. The trial involves up to three electric-powered ‘pods’ operating on pedestrianized areas within the town center. The pods will initially be driven in manual mode by a trained operator while they gather data, which will then allow them to travel using their autonomous systems later in the trial. Findings from the project will also be fed into the larger-scale UK Autodrive program, which is set to deploy a larger fleet of 40 pods along with ‘regular’ road-based autonomous cars as part of a ground-breaking two-city trial in Milton Keynes and Coventry.

Carried out on behalf of the UK Automotive Council and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the LUTZ Pathfinder project is assessing their feasibility from both a technological and societal point of view. Designed and manufactured by Coventry-based automotive innovation company RDM, the electric-powered two-seater pods are equipped with autonomous control systems developed by the University of Oxford’s world-leading Mobile Robotics Group.

It is anticipated that automated vehicle systems will allow for more efficient movement of people and goods, potentially leading to a marked reduction in traffic congestion, as well as bringing possible benefits to the environment. If vehicles can be made to run entirely without human drivers, automation could also offer a new lease of mobility to those who cannot currently drive, whether on account of age, disability or simply because they do not own a car.

Eventually it is hoped that vehicles like the LUTZ pods will form part of an integrated transport system based on Intelligent Mobility, which uses emerging technologies to create a smarter, green and more efficient way of moving people and goods. Nationally, the UK government is investing more than £100m (US$144m) to support the research and development of driverless car technologies. As part of this investment, the Transport Systems Catapult is one of a network of elite technology and innovation centers established by Innovate UK as a long-term investment in the UK’s economic capability. Applying business-led research, the Catapults help businesses transform ideas into valuable products and services to compete in the global markets of the future.

Speaking after his tour of the center, McLoughlin said, “Autonomous and driverless cars have the potential to profoundly transform the way we travel, making journeys simpler, reducing accidents, and helping traffic flow more smoothly. The Transport Systems Catapult is helping Britain lead the way in developing the next generation of vehicles, and I was delighted to try out one of their pods in Milton Keynes. This technology is closer than people think, and in these development labs they are making it a reality.”

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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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