Oxbotica's Geni driverless car

Autonomous vehicle trials ramping up for UK launch in London and Oxford

Image credit: Oxbotica

Autonomous driving start-up FiveAI has been given a £12.8m grant from the UK Government to trial driverless cars on London’s roads in 2019.

The money will fund more than half of the £23m project from the Streetwise consortium, which is led by FiveAI.

Streetwise aims to show how autonomous driving technology is now sufficiently mature to be safe in urban environments and sufficiently intelligent to co-exist with human drivers, road users and pedestrians.

The project also looks at safety validation methods, insurance and service models that will ultimately replace the urban commuter car.

Streetwise is currently targeting a window of Q3 2019 to launch a supervised trial of a pilot fleet of autonomous vehicles on London roads.

The FiveAI team standing in front of their prototype autonomous vehicle

The grant was awarded by the UK government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) as part of its CAV2 competition, which makes a total of £35m available to companies looking to progress driverless technology in the UK.

This project will develop autonomous SAE level 4 technology, which is a ratings system published in 2014 to determine the level of complexity at which driverless technology will operate.

Level 3, or ‘eyes off’, is technology that allows the driver to safely turn their attention away from driving tasks to other activities, such as texting or watching a film. While the vehicle will handle situations that call for an immediate response, like emergency braking, the driver must ultimately be prepared to intervene within some limited time as specified by the manufacturer.

Level 4 does not require the driver to participate in driving, even during emergency situations. This is generally considered the baseline level of functionality for truly autonomous vehicles.

Ultimately, Level 5 vehicles will remove the steering wheel entirely and no human interaction with the driving process will be necessary or even possible. It is thought that taxis will be the first to adopt this model.

Stan Boland, CEO of FiveAI said: “The UK has built up excellent academic expertise in the field of artificial intelligence, an essential component to autonomous vehicle technology.

“Keeping that talent in the UK and focusing enough of it on the automotive space is a serious challenge, since much of it is being hired to work for US companies either on different projects in the UK or on automotive projects in the US or Europe.

“Through this new funding and support, the government is doing its part and it’s now up to UK businesses like FiveAI to step-up to define this emerging market and ensure that the UK becomes a world-leader in this technology and is well positioned to reap the economic benefits.”

Meanwhile, Oxford-based AI company Oxbotica has announced that it is also the recipient of an £8.6m CAV grant which will see a fleet of autonomous vehicles being deployed in urban areas and on motorways, culminating in an end-to-end journey from London to Oxford.

Oxbotica is leading a consortium known as Driven to escalate the pace at which driverless technology comes to the UK.

A six-vehicle fleet, which will operate at SAE Level 4, will be deployed equipped with Selenium, Oxbotica’s vehicle manufacturer-agnostic software (for OEMs) to power autonomous driving.

As a platform, Selenium provides any vehicle it is applied to with an awareness of where it is, what surrounds it and, with that knowledge in hand, how it should move to complete a task.

Professor Paul Newman, Head of the Oxford Robotics Institute based at the University of Oxford and one of Oxbotica’s founders, said: “Driven is the first of its kind and brings a host of new questions surrounding the way these vehicles will communicate with each other. We’re moving from the singleton autonomous vehicle, to fleets of autonomous vehicles – and what’s interesting to us at the Oxford Robotics Institute is what data the vehicles share with one another, when and why.”

Earlier this month, a prototype driverless vehicle began public testing near London’s O2 Arena. 

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