As automakers and tech firms race to develop the future of automated vehicles, a new trial for driverless vehicles in the United Kingdom seeks to change the model for pursuing and promoting new mobility technology, focusing on a system engineered for small legs of a trip, as opposed to entire commutes or trips.
These POD, or pods on-demand, vehicles, are being designed and developed by global engineering and consulting firm AECOM and others as part of the Capri Consortium, a group of 20 partnering organizations including academic institutions, businesses, and local governments. The group has secured a matching grant of £4.2 million ($5.37 million) from Innovate UK, a government fund, and the Centre for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) to create a pilot project.
According to Lee Street, director and head of technology services at AECOM Europe, the aim is to focus on automated solutions for shared shuttles, as opposed to single-passenger private vehicles for commuters.
The project, which begins this year, will focus on four separate trials, starting with a more remote location and advancing through increasingly more challenging and complex, crowded situations. The first, on private land at Filton Airfield in Bristol, will test out a new generation of PODs and validate their performance. Next, the technology will be tested in a shopping center. Finally, the last two trials will take place at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, a diverse development that includes retail, recreation, residential and business centers, with the final integrating the PODs technology with public road control systems.
“PODs will be part of the last mile of your journey,” he says. “In the future, you’ll have mobility as a service, with technology helping to provide the right transport options to get you to where you want to go.”
Other municipalities and companies have been running similar tests, including a self-driving bus in Finland and an autonomous shuttle in Las Vegas. The Capri Consortium hopes that by widening its scope, working with a range of partners, and focusing on developing the technology as a service, they can create a business model for the technology—such as an airport shuttle, or transport around an office park—as well as standards that will make it easier to adopt.
Street says the project is really focused on the service and business models of automated vehicles. He sees the estimates that we’ll have automated cars on sale and on the road for consumers may be a bit premature; rolling out the technology with more centralized and integrated travel systems may be more realistic.
“We’re trying to create the right standards and guidance, so we haven’t got a situation where a Mac and a Microsoft product are trying desperately to work together,” Street says. “If we rely too much on vehicle manufacturers leading this, we’ll have an uphill battle.”