UK’s first ‘whale of pods’ prepares for self-driving trials in Milton Keynes


The UK’s first ever ‘whale of pods’ has arrived in Milton Keynes as the UK Autodrive project prepares for the next phase of its on-road trials of connected and self-driving vehicles.

Aurrigo, a division of Coventry-based autonomous vehicle specialist RDM Group, has delivered 10 of its Pod Zeros for use in the next stage of the UK Autodrive project that will shortly see self-driving vehicles taking to the pavements and streets of Milton Keynes.

Aurrigo says its engineers have been working through the night to build the pods, in order to meet the requirements for what is currently the world’s largest ‘first and last mile’ transport trial. The 10 pods are now finished and their autonomous control systems are being fine-tuned before they form part of the whale (designated as the collective name for a fleet of pods) that could be doing up to 75 miles (120km) of trips every day.

Funded by the government-backed Innovate UK agency, the UK Autodrive project is an ambitious three-year program that will be trialling the use of connected and self-driving vehicles on the streets of Milton Keynes and Coventry. The trials will involve road-based vehicles from project consortium members Ford, Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Motors, as well as the fleet of sidewalk-based electric pods, which are capable of traveling up to 15mph (24km/h) and lasting up to 60 miles (96km) on one charge.

Aurrigo has invested heavily in the development of an operations control center in the town center and has recruited the first three people to support the roll-out, as part of what will eventually be a 10-strong team. This gives the company the presence on the ground it requires to safely and effectively oversee the testing before it goes live with passengers in the summer when up to 40 pods will operate from Central Station to Campbell Park, and Silbury Boulevard to Avebury Boulevard.

“This is another major milestone for UK Autodrive and our country’s desire to be at the forefront of new transport solutions. Importantly, it is also a massive breakthrough for our business, as we now not only have the autonomous technology in place, we also have a production line capable of being ramped up to deliver pods in low and medium volumes,” noted Dr Richard Fairchild, director of autonomous mobility programs at Aurrigo.

“We have been testing the first two vehicles around MK and there has been plenty of interested onlookers asking us questions, some of which were a lot more technical than we expected. Having a ‘whale of pods’ to test will deliver the data and user experience we need to turn this project from a trial into an everyday part of Milton Keynes life.

“We want to get people talking about driverless vehicles as a possible solution for the ‘first and last mile’ part of the journey. The more pods people start seeing, the more the conversation will gather pace.”

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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).