Connected and autonomous vehicles, in UK is a state-owned business

The government considers the research for driverless cars as a pillar of its industrial strategy to ensure the UK’s leadership in this new technology. Several million pounds on the pot, among the latest projects funded the tests for fleets that will replace public transport

Published on 18 May 2017

FiveAI, a Cambridge-based artificial intelligence company, has just raised over £ 12 million from the Government to accelerate the development of a driverless car to be tested on London streets within no more than a couple of years. The company is working with Direct Line, Oxford University, Transport for London and the Transport Research Laboratory, and it turns out preparing a fleet of 10 autonomous and electrical vehicles, linked to a fare-booking app, Uber-style, by the third quarter of 2019. Stan Boland, General Manager of FiveAI, said the test will take place in South London and will be intended to provide an alternative to commuters who drive to go to work.

Driven – a consortium of several companies including Oxford Robotics Institute, reinsurer XL Catlin, Nominet, O2 UK, Transport Research Laboratory, UK Atomic Energy Authority’s RACE, Oxfordshire County Council, Transport for London and Westbourne Communications, led by Oxbotica, spin off of Oxford University which has among its investors even a not better specified insurance company – has just picked up, always from the government, 8.6 million pounds.

The project is far-reaching: bringing a fleet of fully autonomous vehicles, interconnected and spread in urban areas and motorways, to converge together on a trip from London to Oxford. These vehicles will operate with a level 4 autonomy, namely the ability to perform all critical driving tasks and road conditions monitoring for a whole trip, involving zero human passengers. No experiment with autonomous and connected vehicles and such a level of complexity and integration, has never been tried anywhere in the world. Time required to prepare the test: 30 months. Key challenges the consortium will face are communication and data sharing among connected vehicles and the modeling of connected and autonomous vehicle insurance policies; in a nutshell, risk profile and new cybersecurity challenges arising from such a mass of data sharing.

“Nobody has ever tried what DRIVEN plans to realize in the next 30 months. We are trying to address some of the most important challenges that prevent the future marketing of fully autonomous vehicles. I’m totally confidence in the DRIVEN team of experts, internationally well-known and reputed, who will approach this project”. Said Mr. Graeme Smith, Oxbotica CEO.

Professor Paul Newman, manager of Oxford’s Robotics Institute and one of Oxbotica’s founders, said: ” DRIVEN is the first experiment of its kind leading to a set of new questions about how these vehicles communicate with each other. We are shifting from the stand-alone single vehicle to the fleets of autonomous vehicles – and what we are interested in here at Oxford’s Robotics Department is which data the vehicles share with each other, when and why “. Some autonomous vehicles have already been tested in London, through the GATEWAY project.

Both projects, FiveAI and the Driven consortium ones, represent the latest examples of direct, cash-at-hand intervention of the UK Government towards companies developing technology for the driverless car. Less than a year ago, in July 2016, the Government, specifically the transport, business and innovation departments, introduced a series of measures and a budget of £ 100 million to support progress in autonomous vehicles, on the cry of becoming leaders in the development and implementation of this new mobility technology. Even the Queen spoke of this in her annual speech to Parliament.

Additional funds for 390 million pounds were announced last November (for driverless cars and eco-cars) and another £ 270 million, for driverless cars and artificial intelligence, were added last March with the aim of ” support disruptive technologies able to transform British economy”. According to the Financial Times, it is not clear whether there is a partial overlap among the announcements of all these funds, but surely the Government’s commitment to accelerate the arrival of autonomous cars and the new automotive sector which will result from it, is pretty serious. Infrastructures are also on the agenda: For example, £ 100m investment was recently announced to support a cluster of CAV testing centers (connected and autonomous vehicles) existing in the UK, particularly those located along the M40 motorway: Coventry, Birmingham, Milton Keynes as well as Oxford and London.

By creating a coherent national cluster, government and industry can quickly accelerate the development of CAV technology in the UK, develop know how in this sector, draw investment abroad, and create a national ecosystem that covers all test requirements for Computer CAV technology. Program design on road tests.

Dr Graeme Smith, CEO of Oxbotica already mentioned above, told the Financial Times: “This is a real breakthrough in the development of autonomous car technology. The UK has a number of remarkable new companies in the automotive sector, with a great potential to change the world by creating jobs and producing products and services which will be exported from Britain. We get an edge and now we need to take advantage of it.”

To get more in-depth, the government website is full of information.

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