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180-mile test road for autonomous vehicle trials unveiled in Birmingham area

Image credit: Dreamstime

Work has begun on building on the UK’s first stretch of road designed for testing autonomous vehicles that will be open to automakers and tech firms later this year.

The 186-mile (300km) Midlands Future Mobility route will take in roads between Coventry and Birmingham and will allow autonomous vehicles to be trialled in urban, rural, suburban and highway settings.

The first types of vehicle to be trialled along the route will be ‘connected’ vehicles which can ‘talk’ to each other via 5G and warn of traffic, crashes and other hazards that other connected vehicles may have seen or be heading towards.

The vehicles on the route will not be driving themselves during the early stages of research: initially, they will have a human driver and occasionally a second person also onboard to monitor their performance.

The route will include infrastructure such as smart CCTV, weather stations, communications units and highly accurate GPS.

Estimates suggest the autonomous vehicle industry could be worth up to £62bn to the UK economy by 2030.

Autonomous vehicle trials are expected to take place in the future and will be closely monitored by safety operators ready to take over immediately in the event of a problem.

These autonomous vehicles will appear gradually as more and more advanced driver assistance systems are tested with capabilities such as lane centring and auto-speed limiting technology.

The route itself causes no disruption to drivers or the homes along it, as it uses existing road infrastructure for around 95 per cent of the time.

Phase one of the route includes the University of Warwick; the Coventry ring road, and roads in Meriden, Solihull, and central Birmingham. Later this year, the route will be extended to include rural and highway roads and span up to 217 miles (350km).

Project director John Fox said: “It is great to see that work has begun in making roads a more connected place, where drivers can make their journeys more safely and where goods can be delivered more efficiently.

“The West Midlands has a rich history of the automotive industry and to see it is now progressing into autonomous vehicles feels somewhat momentous.”

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “Connected and autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to radically change our lives and I am pleased the West Midlands is leading the way in this sector with research facilities and production plants already in place.

“I am determined our region will become a global leader in electric and autonomous vehicle technology, as I know we have the skills, facilities and drive to compete with any other city or region in the world.

“Seeing our roads being used as a test-bed for this new technology is both exciting and a step forward and this vital research will help pave the way to bring key investment and jobs to the region as we look to bounce back from the Covid-19 crisis.”

The project is run by a consortium of companies including WMG, MIRA, Transport for West Midlands, Costain, Amey, Wireless Infrastructure Group, Vodafone, Coventry University and Highways England.

Chinese start-up Pony.ai recently introduced a driverless delivery service in California to help cater to the burgeoning demand for online deliveries due to the coronavirus lockdown.

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