Greenwich provides a GATEway to driverless cars

| Transport

The Greenwich peninsula autonomous shuttle

Jonathan Newell looks at the GATEway project and how Government funding and a new code of practice herald the arrival of driverless car testing on the UK public road network.

Set in the rolling parklands of Greenwich, the Royal Observatory and historic Naval College have set this region of London apart for centuries, with its influence still being felt globally today. Significant landmarks of a more modern era also find their home in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, including the O2 arena and the Thames Barrier.

Now, this small region of South East London is destined to play a major role in pushing forward the boundaries of transport technology that will have a similarly global reach by becoming a development centre and test bed for driverless cars.

Breaking the public road barrier

Bringing driverless cars out from the test circuits and onto public roads shared by other vehicles has always been an enormous constraint in the development of vehicle autonomy – it requires much more than a simple leap of faith that all will go well. Legislators, authorities and government bodies need to provide the legal and regulatory structure for getting the vehicles on the road.

One of the questions that has been at the forefront of debate has been that of liability in the event of an accident involving an autonomous vehicle. This has been addressed to some extent in recent guidelines released by the UK’s Department for Transport:  here, during testing on public roads, the onus of responsibility lies firmly with the testing organisation to ensure that:

* the vehicle is at a sufficient stage of development to be used in mixed traffic; and
* a qualified test driver is always present to comply with the rules of the road and to take control where necessary.

A framework for success

The guideline document issued by the DoT, “The Pathway to Driverless Cars: A Code of Practice for Testing”, is a breakthrough for the autonomous vehicle industry in the UK. It sets out the framework within which test organisations can take the next important step in bringing driverless cars to the market.

The timing of its release also coincides with a considerable injection of funding into the industry, with £100 million having been announced as part of the 2015 spring budget allocated to intelligent mobility research, a fifth of which has been earmarked for a competitive fund for collaborative research and development into driverless vehicles.

With funding available and a code of practice for research organisations to work within, the UK can now compete with other European countries which have already begun autonomous vehicle research. Most predominant amongst these are Germany and Sweden, where Daimler-Benz and Volvo have been working with their respective governments and local authorities on advanced testing facilities for driverless cars.

The intelligent mobility market value is difficult to estimate at this stage, but some figures suggest that it could be worth as much as £900 billion pounds within ten years time. The UK Government’s Business Secretary, Sajid Javid believes the UK could take a large slice of that market due to its existing world class automotive industry, innovative strength and light touch regulatory approach to testing driverless technology.

“Driverless cars will bring great benefits to our society and economy and I want the UK to lead the way in developing this exciting technology. Our Code of Practice clearly shows that the UK is in the best position when it comes to testing driverless cars and embracing the motoring of the future. We now look forward to working with industry to make this a reality,” says Transport Minister Andrew Jones. “A decade ago Britain’s car industry was in decline, but it is now the most productive amongst the major European producers. New technology can help it improve its productivity and competitiveness in the future.”

Industry Collaboration

The £20 million pounds available under the driverless vehicle collaborative research and development fund is available to successful bidders who are able to match the awarded funds with their own money in order to finance their projects.

The government is looking for bids in specific fields including safety, reliability, the use of autonomous vehicles in providing greater levels of independence to an ageing population and the turbulent technology of vehicle-to-vehicle (v2v) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (v2i) communications.

Collectively referred to as v2x communications, the ICT element of autonomous vehicles is regarded by many as the main prerequisite to their success. Vehicle autonomy could be regarded as environmental engineering at its finest where technology interacts with its surrounding environment with extremely high precision, adapting to changes accurately, appropriately and seamlessly. To achieve this requires sensors, software and communications technology that goes beyond the existing state of the art for both vehicles and infrastructure. This is an enormous challenge and a significant opportunity for UK technology companies.

Autonomous or manual control

Greenwich Automated Transport Environment Project (GATEway)

Even before the announcement of the injection of funds into autonomous vehicles by the UK government, one organisation played a pivotal role in getting the UK moving towards driverless motoring. Led by the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), the Greenwich Automated Transport Environment Project (GATEway) combines the expertise and resources of commercial companies and academic institutions engaged in automotive research and the development of test criteria for the acceleration of innovation and delivery of smart cities.

Over the next two years the GATEway project will:

* Demonstrate automated transport systems in a range of environments
* Explore the legal and technical changes required to introduce automated vehicles
* Explore the reactions of both pedestrians, drivers and other road users to automated vehicles

The GATEway team consulted with the Department for Transport in the development of the Code of Practice released earlier this year. The Technical Lead of the GATEWay project & Academy Director at TRL, Professor Nick Reed told us: “A lot of research and development is required before driverless cars become commonplace on our streets, but the launch of the Code of Practice brings this vision a step closer. It sets the scene for the safe evaluation and development of highly and fully automated vehicles for years to come and is another example of how the UK is leading the charge in this area. Combined with the £20m, the UK is now firmly positioned at the centre of future mobility.”

The Greenwich location for the project will provide GATEway with a test environment comprising a wide range of real-world applications for driverless vehicles and prior to launching its autonomous vehicles onto the streets, TRL will use DigiCar , its high fidelity driving simulator, along with an accurate 3D model of the Greenwich peninsula to investigate driver behaviour in the presence of vehicle automation.

The Royal Borough of Greenwich is an ideal location for the trials to explore how driverless vehicles might work in an urban setting. The Royal Borough will be examining all aspects of the trials – from potential impacts on road layout, car park positions and legislation to looking at how the vehicles could bring significant benefits in regard to road safety and air quality.

Councillor Denise Hyland, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich said: “It’s thrilling to see these trials get underway in Greenwich, really cementing the area’s reputation as a place of innovation and advancing new technology. Greenwich Peninsula provides the ideal location for us to explore what this technology can offer people and how it will eventually be implemented in the real world. We’re proud here in Greenwich to be at the forefront of developing this technology. We offer the ideal setting for these trials; an expanding population, a complex urban environment and a variety of existing and expanding transport links – which will really tell us what we need to know about putting driverless vehicles into an urban setting.”

Traffic management software will be updated to take into account the behaviour of and communications with automated vehicles.

“Since February, the consortium has been working hard to lay the necessary foundations for the planned autonomous vehicle trials,” adds Reed. “We want to make sure that the trials are optimally developed and delivered, so the first public vehicle trials won’t take place until 2016. But now that the new Code of Practice has given the green light for testing on UK roads, it won’t be long before you see one of our self-driving vehicles out in the public again.”

Code of Practice at a Glance

The test organisation must:

* Conduct risk analysis and have appropriate risk management strategies
* Manage adverse impacts of using test vehicles on other road users
* Provide appropriate training for drivers
* Engage the public through appropriate PR and information campaigns
* Liaise with local authorities and emergency services on test plans and infrastructure requirements
* Ensure drivers’ histories do not indicate that they present a particular risk

The vehicle must:

* Be legal to be used on the road and should be insured, taxed and meet construction and use regulations as well as being maintained in a roadworthy condition
* Have completed adequate testing at off-road locations prior to being placed on public roads.
* Be equipped with sensors and control systems that respond appropriately to all types of road users including vulnerable ones.
* Be fitted with a data recording device to provide specific information at any point in the vehicle test.
* Have software security in place to prevent unauthorised control.
* Have an easy and clear transition path from automatic to manual control
* Have clear and tested software levels and revisions.

The driver must:

* Be appropriately licensed and experienced for the class of vehicle on test
* Have received training in switching from manual to autonomous control
* Be in a position to have proper control of the vehicle as governed by Construction and Use regulations.
* Obey all existing traffic regulations that apply to all other vehicle users.
* Be conscious of their appearance to other road users

Jonathan Newell
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