UK’s first driverless car hits the road

13 Oct 2016

The UK's first driverless car hit the road during a test in Milton Keynes this week. Image: TSC

For the first time in the UK, the public got a taste of the autonomous vehicle future, with the first driverless car hitting the road during a test in Milton Keynes.

Transport Systems Catapult and Oxbotica, a spin-off from the University of Oxford’s Robotics Institute, tested the self-driving vehicle in a 1km loop on pavements around Milton Keynes’ railway station.

The plan is to make a fleet of 40 LUTZ Pathfinder “pods” available to the public by next year.

‘Driverless vehicles are coming to Britain and what we have demonstrated today is a huge step on that journey’

Future Human

The self-driving vehicles are powered by Oxbotica’s Selenium mobile autonomy software.

Selenium can work in pedestrianised environments as well as roads and motorways, and is not reliant on GPS to operate – meaning it can easily transition between indoor and outdoor settings, overground or underground. The system has been developed to be “vehicle agnostic” – meaning it can be applied to cars, self-driving pods (for campuses and airports), and warehouse truck fleets.

The system uses patented algorithms that give vehicles a next generation level of intelligence. It allows them to autonomously perform a range of mobility tasks, including motion control, braking, calibration, navigation, static, and dynamic obstacle detection.

Selenium is set to be deployed at a series of autonomy trials where Oxbotica is the sole supplier of autonomy software. This includes the £8 million GATEway project in Greenwich and the LUTZ Pathfinder self-driving pod project in Milton Keynes.

The company is also working with manufacturers in a broad spectrum of mobile autonomy domains.

UK’s first autonomous car

The LUTZ Pathfinder is the UK’s first autonomous car, a two-seater pod built by Coventry-based RDM group. It was first shown to the public in 2015.

The LUTZ (Low-carbon Urban Transport Zone) Pathfinder pod is part of the UK Government’s Transport Systems Catapult Autodrive project, worth £20m.

Electric powered, the vehicle can seat two people, will travel at a maximum speed of 15mph and boasts a range of 40 miles.

“This public demonstration represents a major milestone for autonomous vehicles in the UK and the culmination of an extensive project involving UK companies and experts,” explained Neil Fulton, programme director at the Transport Systems Catapult (TSC).

“Oxford University’s technology will go on to power automated vehicles around the world and the LUTZ Pathfinder project will now feed into a much wider programme of autonomous trials across the UK. Driverless vehicles are coming to Britain and what we have demonstrated today is a huge step on that journey.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years