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UK’s first multi-city autonomous car trial begins in Oxford

An autonomous vehicles trial – claimed to be the first multi-city trial of self-driving cars – has kicked off in Oxford this week. It will expand into London and a third city next year.

Six Ford Mondeos are travelling on a nine-mile (14.5km) route between Oxford station and Oxford Parkway station, north of the city centre. Trials will run all through day and night, and under a range of weather cnonditions.

The cars have Level 4 (“mind off”) autonomous driving technology. At this penultimate level of autonomy no driver attention is required for safety, although autonomous driving is only supported under certain circumstances e.g.: a driverless shuttle bus route. Safety drivers capable of taking control back from the car will sit in the vehicles during all tests.

The trial is led by Oxford-based Oxbotica and is part of Project Endeavour: a government-backed scheme seeking to accelerate and scale up the adoption of autonomous vehicle services across the UK.

“Project Endeavour is the UK’s first multi-city autonomous vehicle demonstration,” said Graeme Smith, Oxbotica’s senior VP for external affairs. “It aims to create a flexible, scalable model that will make the wide-scale deployment of autonomous vehicles quicker, easier, and more efficient – whilst maintaining the highest safety standards.”

“This project is about far more than just technology; it is about helping our cities and local authorities prepare for autonomy and to begin thinking about how to deploy it in such a way that helps urban planning and reduce congestion.”

“The UK’s towns and cities differ greatly, each with their own quirks, from varying road design to urban planning,” Smith continued. “That’s why we’re running trials in three major UK cities, so that we can design autonomous vehicle services that address all the complexities of urban life – and be scalable to diverse locations across the UK and further afield.”

Next year, the trial will be expanded to Greenwich in South East London and a third UK city (yet to be confirmed). It will run until autumn 2021.

In August, the government launched a consultation which could pave the way to the introduction of Level 3 (“eyes off”) autonomous vehicles as early as 2021. This could allow drivers to delegate certain driving tasks under limited circumstances, such as keeping a vehicle in its lane during a traffic jam on a motorway.

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