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London's first driverless cars revealed… and they'll be driving on the pavement

GATEway project to run three month test to gauge public response

Seven driverless cars are to be tested around the Greenwich Peninsula, where the O2 Arena is based, from July. They will be tested on pavements with a steward present at all times in case of any problems.

In truth, it doesn’t seem entirely appropriate to call them cars and the vehicles are in fact more commonly referred to as ‘driverless pods’. They will be adapted versions of the Ultra PODs that are currently in service at Heathrow – electric four-wheelers which carry passengers between the car park and Terminal 5.

The trial is part of the £8m GATEway project which last year tested an entirely different driverless pod on a cycle path in the same area. This time around the test will last for three months. Trips will involve only invited users at first and subsequently the general public. Each pod has space for five passengers plus the steward who will be there to press the emergency button should the need arise.

Professor Nick Reed, technical director for the Gateway project, told the BBC: "It will tell us whether people trust and accept these vehicles and how they would work as part of the urban landscape. This vehicle has millions of miles under its belt and now we have to take it outside of the track and modify it for use on pavements."

Westfield Sportscars, a British car firm, will be responsible for manufacturing and testing the pods with Oxbotica, a research team with links to Oxford University's Mobile Robotics Group, working on mapping, localisation, perception and trajectory planning. Heathrow Enterprises will be responsible for vehicle software engineering, having run similar pods for some time now.

There are also plans for a cloud-based shuttle management system, which would provide monitoring and reporting as well as a booking app for smartphones.

Dr Graeme Smith, Chief Executive of Oxbotica said:

“Demonstrating autonomous pods in public operation around the Greenwich peninsular will be a huge step in determining how this technology interacts with both passengers and pedestrians. We are proud to be providing our autonomous control software to both the GATEway and the UK Autodrive projects within the Government’s Driverless Car Challenge”.

UK Autodrive is based jointly in Milton Keynes and Coventry and involves the demonstration of road-going cars and lightweight self-driving pods designed for pedestrianised spaces. A third UK driverless vehicle project, VENTURER, will trial autonomous vehicles in Bristol, while also investigating legal and insurance aspects.

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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