Driverless Car Tests Start on UK Roads

02 Nov 2020 by Lisa Simm

Driverless car tests will now begin on Oxford’s Roads as part of government-backed research known as ‘Project Endeavour’. The project is a landmark say Oxbotica, the Oxford-based company pioneering this next-generation self-driving technology in the UK.

A new Driving Future

Oxford is the first city to hold these next-generation trials ahead of further tests in other UK cities including London. With tests continuing until autumn next year.

“Project Endeavour is the UK’s first multi-city autonomous vehicle demonstration,” said Graeme Smith, Oxbotica’s senior VP for external affairs. “It aims to create a flexible, scalable model that will make the wide-scale deployment of autonomous vehicles quicker, easier, and more efficient – whilst maintaining the highest safety standards.”

Under the tests, cars will drive a nine-mile trip from Oxford Parkway railway station to Oxford’s main train station. The journeys will take place day and night so tests take place in different situations, including rush hour traffic, for example. In addition, by choosing to test over a year, monitoring can take place in a variety of weather conditions.

Despite the high level of driver autonomy, all the cars will have a driver who can take control of the vehicle at any time.

driverless cars testing on Oxford Roads

First of its kind in the UK

Most autonomous vehicles can only operate in a separate area with GPS technology before the driver has to take control. However, the software in the six specially modified Ford Mondeo cars used in ‘Project Endeavour’ can provide universal autonomy without the need for GPS or specials road markings.

Oxbotica’s first live on-road trials will work alongside local councils in order to help shape the mobility of the future in urban environments.

driverless car tests - cars on road

Levels of Driver Autonomy

Currently, driver autonomy ranks from level zero to level five. Level zero is no automation, whereas level five is fully automated and levels one to four progressively more autonomous.

Level Two autonomy is already available on some cars. So back in August, the Department of Transport (DfT) called for evidence into Level Three technology. The consultation focused on automated lane-keeping systems (ALKS). ALKS can keep the car in its lane for extended periods, but drivers need to be ready to take back control at any moment. The results aim to pave the way for the introduction of Level Three (eyes off) autonomous vehicles as early as 2021.

Level Three autonomy will help drivers delegate tasks under specific circumstances. For example, it could be keeping a vehicle in its lane during a traffic jam on a motorway. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) claims this will help reduce the number of accidents.

ALKS is currently approved by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), of which the UK is a member. Under current rules, the system can operate in motorway traffic jams at speeds of up to 37mph. With the plan to eventually introduce the same technology up to speeds of 70mph in the UK.

What You Think About Autonomous Driving?

We’d love to know your thoughts on autonomous driving. Do you support these developments? Or perhaps you have reservations about this level of driver software? As ever, let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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