Author(s): Raghu Gopal
During the next two weeks, Londoners will get a chance to ride a prototype driverless shuttle bus on a route in Greenwich. The autonomous shuttle bus is expected to navigate a two-kilometre route. This is breaking new ground for London: it's the first time members of the public have an opportunity to ride in a driverless shuttle. Officials behind the project believe it could improve transport links in Greenwich.
The computer-controlled vehicle is developed by Oxbotica, formerly Oxford University's Mobile Robotics Group. The prototype is named Harry, after navigation visionary John Harrison. Oxbotica fitted the bus with software that enables real-time navigation, planning, and perception in dynamic environments. The shuttle can travel up to 16 kilometres per hour and seats four people.
Harry is equipped with five cameras and three lasers that allow it to navigate a specified riverside path near London's O2 Arena, an area heavily frequented by pedestrians and cyclists. The shuttle bus has no steering wheel or brake pedal, but there will be personnel on board to stop the shuttle if necessary.
The shuttle is part of an £8 million research project called Gateway "to develop and investigate the use, perception and acceptance of fully automated vehicles in the UK", led by the UK's Transport Research Laboratory. The initiative is funded by both government and industry sources.
The trial won't just be a test of the technology, but also the public's preconception of driverless vehicles and barriers to the acceptance of this form of transportation. Passengers are interviewed before and after their shuttle trip.
London joins other cities in testing autonomous shuttles on public roads. In France, Lyon became the first city to operate a daily driverless bus service that runs along a 10-minute route in the Confluence area. In Las Vegas, a shuttle named Arma has been taking passengers along the downtown area (see Las Vegas Takes a Chance on Driverless Public Transport).
Although autonomous driving is still far from reaching critical mass, the technology enablers are now widely available to put this concept through its paces on streets around the world. It's really going places.