Driverless scheme set to launch in 2019 as UK backs first public trials

24 April 2017

24 April 2017 The first tests of driverless cars on public roads are to begin in London after the UK Government gave financial backing to a tech consortium Streetwise to launch a fully operational scheme in just two years’ time. The UK’s departments for business and transport have awarded the group £12.8 million (€15.1 million) to research and develop the self-driving technology ahead of a trial in the UK capital. It will involve the creation of a fully-working driverless system, including ability to order rides with a smartphone app, and the supporting insurance and safety protocols. This is set for demonstration in Q3 2019. The group is led by Cambridge-based artificial intelligence (AI) firm FiveAI, and to achieve these goals it is partnering with the University of Oxford, operator Transport for London, insurer Direct Line and the non-profit consultancy TRL (Transport Research Laboratory). FiveAI head and veteran entrepreneur Stan Boland said: ′It’s about delivering to the consumer an autonomous Uber-type service in London″¦ It’s insane for people to buy a car and then leave it parked for 94% of the time and only have one user per car; in the future vehicles can be shared.’ He added that he expects driverless cars to eventually come close to completely replacing car ownership. Boland is a former Acorn Computers CEO, and has sold businesses to Nvidia and Broadcom. He was also a director of leading smartphone chipmaker ARM, recently sold to Japanese tech giant Softbank. Driverless cars is a core pillar of the UK’s industrial strategy, and is supported by the core innovation centre, the Transport Systems Catapult. It is particularly concentrated on maximising the potential from business tie-ups with the UK’s world-class universities. Boland said FiveAI is in a strong position to compete at developing autonomous driving technology, despite tech giants Google, Intel and Uber competing in the sphere due to the enormous strength of experts in AI and computer vision at British universities. FiveAI is set to grow rapidly from 20 current staff to 120 in just two years. It is currently testing autonomous vehicles on private land tracks with plans to move onto rural roads, with the ultimate aim to tackle the more tricky proposition of urban roads such as in London. The project is one of several major driverless vehicle projects underway in the UK. The UK’s second-largest vehicle manufacturer Nissan is currently trialling autonomous vehicles in London, and another TRL project (alongside tech start-up Oxbotica) is presently allowing members of the public to ride a self-driving shuttle called ′Harry’ zipping round Greenwich in central London. A further rival group of top tech companies has also been awarded millions of pounds in new funding from the UK government towards driverless car deployment. Oxbotica, the tech company spun off from the Oxford Robotics Institute and behind the self-driving pod trials in London, will spearhead an ambitious 30-month programme to get fully autonomous vehicles travelling between London and Oxford. The large consortium also involves Transport for London and TRL, as well as the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s R&D lab called Race, insurer XL Catlin, telecom Telefónica and URL operator Nominet (both crucial for internet-connected cars), Oxford University’s Oxford Robotics Institute and the local Oxfordshire council.