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Driverless shuttle trials

Driverless shuttle trials begin in Greenwich - based on Heathrow Pod's.

Driverless shuttle trials
By Heathrow

Heathrow’s driverless PODs have helped pave the way for a new trial of driverless shuttles in Greenwich, which began yesterday. The trial is part of the GATEway project, led by TRL, which Heathrow has been a part of.

The below is taken from a release issued by the GATEway Project.

In the latest phase of the GATEway Project (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) a prototype shuttle will begin driverless navigation of a 2km route around the Greenwich Peninsula, using advanced sensors and state-of-the-art autonomy software to detect and avoid obstacles whilst carrying members of the public participating in the research study.

The GATEway Project is a world-leading research programme, led by TRL and funded by government and industry. It aims to demonstrate the use of automated vehicles for ‘last mile’ mobility, seamlessly connecting existing transport hubs with residential and commercial areas using a zero emission, low noise transport system. Research findings from the project will guide the wider roll out of automated vehicle technology in all forms of surface transport, including cars, lorries and buses.

Uniquely, the focus of the study is not the technology but how it functions alongside people in a natural environment. This first trial will explore people’s pre-conceptions of driverless vehicles and barriers to acceptance through detailed interviews with participants before and after they ride in the shuttle.Residents and visitors to the Peninsula are invited to leave feedback via an interactive map.

How do the driverless vehicles work?

The prototype shuttle, dubbed ‘Harry’ (in honour of navigation visionary John Harrison*), uses a state-of-the-art autonomy software system, called Selenium, which enables realtime, robust navigation, planning, and perception in dynamic environments.

Developed by British companies Westfield Sportscars, Heathrow Enterprises and Oxbotica**, the shuttle has no steering wheel or typical driver controls, ‘Harry’ is the UK’s first fully automated shuttle vehicle. Over an eight-hour period of operation, a single GATEway shuttle will collect a massive four terabytes of data – equivalent to 2,000 hours of film or 1.2 million photographs.

The system uses onboard sensors, such as cameras and lasers, to locate itself in its map, perceive and track dynamic obstacles around it, and plan a safe obstacle-free trajectory to the goal. It does this without any reliance on GPS. High data-rate 3D laser range finders are used for obstacle detection and tracking, and an additional safety curtain is used for redundancy in order to maximise safety.

Whilst the GATEway vehicle is designed to operate without a human driver, a safety steward will remain on-board at all times, complying with the UK’s code of practice on automated vehicle testing.

The biggest mobility change since the invention of the combustion engine…

The project will not only see London and the UK emerge as a world leader in automated technology, but provide valuable sociological insight into what is expected to be the most profound change in mobility since the invention of the internal combustion engine.

Professor Nick Reed, Academy Director at TRL commented: “This research is another milestone in the UK’s journey towards driverless vehicles and a vital step towards delivering safer, cleaner and more effective transport in our cities.”

“It is critical that the public are fully involved as these technologies become a reality. The GATEway Project is enabling us to discover how potential users of automated vehicles respond to them so that the anticipated benefits to mobility can be maximised.”

We see automated vehicles as a practical solution to delivering safe, clean, accessible and affordable last-mile mobility. I’m hugely proud of the work that has been undertaken in preparing for these tests and excited to move on to public testing.

Professor Nick Reed , Academy Director , TRL

About the Heathrow PODs…​

The first of its kind in the world, the driver-less and electric PODs system connects a business car park to Terminal 5 and saves more than 70,000 bus journeys annually.

The journey is on demand at the touch of a computer screen, so average waiting time for a pod is 10-15 seconds and 80% of passengers have zero waiting time.

Journey time to and from the Terminal is also around ten minutes (60%) less compared to the original buses.​