The trial aims to assess the public's willingness to use autonomous vehicles in built-up areas

Driverless shuttle pods in Greenwich set for summer launch

Heathrow Airport’s shuttle pods are to be adapted to run driverlessly on London roads, starting with road trials around Greenwich.

Currently the pods automatically ferry passengers at Terminal 5 and run on rails without a driver.

The vehicles are set to be used in trials of driverless cars in Greenwich this summer as part of a project led by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL).

The trial aims to assess the public's willingness to use autonomous vehicles in built-up areas, TRL said.

A consortium of British firms known as Gateway - which includes Westfield Sportscars, Heathrow Enterprises and Oxbotica - will work together to make the pods into "fully driverless shuttles".

The consortium is an £8m project funded by industry and Innovate UK that is looking into automated vehicle technology.

Professor Nick Reed, academy director at TRL, said: "The addition of three prominent and respected British organisations to the Gateway consortium further strengthens the UK's position as a leader in autonomous technologies.

"Each company brings a great deal of experience to the project, which will prove valuable in helping us to understand how the public and industry will adapt to the use of automated vehicles in the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab test environment in Greenwich.

"If the trials prove successful, we expect these iconic vehicles to become a familiar sight in many cities around the world."

Steve Chambers, director of engineering and asset management at Heathrow, said: "The Gateway project is a fantastic opportunity to build upon the Heathrow pod concept, our unique zero-emission transport system between Terminal 5 and business car park, which has already removed 70,000 bus journeys a year from Heathrow roads and the equivalent of 100 tonnes of CO2 a year."

The existing pods at Heathrow have been operating at Terminal 5 for nearly five years and have carried nearly 1.5 million passengers in that time.

The new service will not be the first of its kind. A driverless six-seat shuttle bus travelling at speeds of 8km/h was recently launched in the Dutch agricultural town of Wageningen, becoming the first autonomous vehicle in the world allowed on public roads without a driver, with the exception of prototype models.

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