Trials of an autonomous shuttle service on public roads have officially begun in Cambridge, UK. Aurrigo, which provides ‘first and last mile’ transportation solutions, says it has become the first firm in the UK to undertake testing of a custom-made autonomous vehicle capable of carrying passengers on a main road surrounded by other traffic, including cars, lorries, vans, bikes and pedestrians.
Able to seat 10 people outside of social distancing restrictions, its three shuttles will take passengers from the Madingley Road Park and Ride site to and around the University of Cambridge’s West Campus.
The trial is part of a project backed by Innovate UK and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), led by Aurrigo with Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) and Smart Cambridge all working together to explore how autonomous technology could be used on the public transportation network.
Passengers recruited for the project will be able to use an Aurrigo app to organize pickups at a number of locations across the two-mile route.
“This is another major milestone in the journey toward making autonomous vehicles a reality on our roads,” explained David Keene, CEO of Aurrigo. “We’ve completed successful trials in city centers, in retirement complexes and at major golf tournaments, but this is the first time these vehicles will be sharing the route with everyday traffic.
“The shuttles, which have been designed and manufactured at our Advanced Engineering Centre in Coventry, will operate the 20-minute journey around the West Cambridge route. They will run autonomously for the majority of the route using our in-house developed Auto-Stack driving software and the latest lidar and camera technology to identify potential hazards as they move around,” he continued.
“Our technology will help provide new transport solutions for city centers, shopping and care facilities, airports and heritage sites. The trial in Cambridge is the next step in proving it.”
With a range of over 120 miles, the Aurrigo Auto-Shuttle features a lightweight composite frame powered by a 22kW electric motor. The striking external design is replicated inside, creating a safe environment for up to 10 people to sit once Covid-19 social distancing is relaxed. This includes space for wheelchair users that can access the vehicle via an automatically deployed ramp.
The shuttles are fitted with an array of sensors, laser scanners and cameras, which build a map of how the vehicle moves through its environment. Then, during a journey, the same sensors are used to inform the vehicle of where it is on that map, enabling it to operate fully autonomously in its surroundings.
The West Cambridge Campus was chosen by the project team as it provides the perfect environment to trial autonomous vehicles – without the need for alterations to the vehicles or physical infrastructure.
Safety operators will be on board the vehicles during the project trials and are able to regain manual control of the vehicle immediately at any time if required.
Earlier trials in Cambridge had been halted by the pandemic, but with mapping now complete, Rachel Maclean, Minister for the Future of Transport, was able to officially mark the start of public testing again when she took the first official journey earlier this week.
“Self-driving vehicles present a number of opportunities for the UK, from providing safer, greener and more reliable transport services to creating tens of thousands of well-paid and skilled jobs across the nation,” commented Rachel Maclean MP.
“This project is hugely exciting and is an example of how self-driving vehicles could make it easier for people to travel on the UK’s future public transport network.”
The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) and Smart Cambridge-led trials will support research into potential driverless shuttle services to link the city’s other research campuses with the rail stations and Park & Ride sites. They will also further explore how smart technology can be used to cut congestion and improve public transportation, especially for shift workers, weekend shoppers and revellers.
Claire Ruskin, executive director of Cambridge Network and business representative on the GCP Executive Board, added her support: “It is very exciting to see these vehicles working on real roads here as another first in Cambridge. These shuttles could be used on-demand all day and night, every day of the year – which is unaffordable with our existing public transport.
“They are flexible and make good use of resources without needing significant infrastructure. As employment around Cambridge is 24/7 for many organisations – including our hospitals, emergency services and many of our labs – we have been anticipating this new technology to see how real operation will help people get around.”