Government green-lights first use of autonomous vehicles on UK roads
- UK’s first trial of autonomous vehicles on public roads will take place in Didcot, Oxfordshire
- Trial funded by Government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK
- Project seeks to reduce car usage within a large business park by half
The first use of fully connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) on public roads is set to take place in Oxfordshire, following the announcement of government funding into a trial project.
Innovate UK has today (25 February) announced the award of £2.5 million to trial self-driving vehicles in and around Milton Park, the large, high-tech business and science hub near Didcot. The vehicles will travel between private roads at Milton Park and the public roads that link the site with nearby transport services.
The 30-month MultiCAV project will be undertaken by a consortium of organisations with different sector backgrounds who are investing in the development of autonomous vehicles, and led by UK transport operator FirstGroup.
Despite being relatively close to Didcot Parkway station, most travel to and from Milton Park is currently made in private vehicles. With the site set to expand in the coming years, the MultiCAV consortium is building on the work already underway to provide the park with long-term, safe sustainable transport.
Commuters to the site will be able to connect with the self-driving pods from local transport services, while booking and paying for their trip in one easy process.
It is hoped that by the end of the trial up to 50% of private vehicle journeys within the business park will switch to using the shared, electric-powered pods.
BEIS Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Minister for Business and Energy, Richard Harrington, said: “Through these competitions, we are offering innovative businesses support to take their projects to the next level and help them achieve commercial success. The projects that we are nurturing mean that we are a step closer to securing our place as a world leader in self-driving vehicles. This significant investment is a mark of the innovation that is at the heart of our modern Industrial Strategy. The development of new technologies is a cornerstone of the UK’s world-class science and research and will ensure that we deliver a Britain fit for the future by creating jobs and the skills needed to succeed.”
Innovate UK Chief Executive Ruth McKernan said: “The quality and commercial potential of these successful projects demonstrate how UK businesses are developing pioneering connected and autonomous vehicle technologies. The impact will benefit our thriving automotive industry and the economy as a whole.”
John Birtwistle, project lead for FirstGroup, said: “We’re excited to be leading the first mainstream use of autonomous vehicles in the UK. By connecting the Milton Park development with the existing regional transport infrastructure, including Great Western Railway trains at Didcot Parkway station, commuters will see a tangible reason to leave their cars at home. It’s a huge step towards tackling the problem of congestion on our roads and enabling the sustainable future development of the business park and, potentially, other similar sites in the future.”
John Cotton, Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “The funding will deliver an exciting regular commercial service, using innovative transport, to connect residents, visitors and workers to the surrounding business community based on Milton Park – one of the main principles in the Didcot Garden Town plan.”
Matthew Barber, Leader of the Vale of White Horse District Council, said: “Science Vale UK is already renowned for creating state-of-the-art technology and, along with our business partners, we are delighted to receive the Innovate UK grant that confirms our ambitions to establish the Science Vale at the forefront of bringing zero emission autonomous public transport to our region.”
Vectos, a London-based transport consultancy, has been helping MEPC identify sustainable travel initiatives at Milton Park.
Veronica Reynolds, Behavioural Change Advisor at Vectos, said: “A key aim of the Milton Park Travel Forum is to work closely with the Park’s business leaders to future-proof the park’s transport offer. This innovative new project builds on the work of that Forum and its vision to provide more and greener travel options. We would like to thank everyone at Milton Park for the support we have received to date which has undoubtedly contributed to the success in securing this project funding.”
Philip Campbell, Commercial Director for MEPC at Milton Park said: “Milton Park is at the heart of UK’s most fertile innovation economy and this project is about using technology developed by some of the best brains in the world to improve sustainable transport choice. The fruition of this project will give Milton Park occupiers better choice in their daily travel decisions and the chance to be amongst the first in the world to travel on autonomous shuttle vehicles for their everyday journeys.”
Yvonne Constance, Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet member for Environment and Economy, said: “Oxfordshire was the first council to consider autonomous vehicles within its transport policy and has been a supporter of the technology since it’s infancy in the UK. We have an incredible concentration of AV related companies, and in Culham, RACE the UK’s real world test bed facility. The county council has been keen on including innovation in the delivery of Didcot Garden Town from the very start and this project will be one of the first to demonstrate the approach and further enhance Oxfordshire’s place as a world leader in applied learning and development of AVs.”