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Driverless vehicle trial gets underway in London - but could it affect space for cycling? (+ video)

Greenwich joins Bristol and Coventry/Milton Keynes in trialling new technology

Trials have begun of driverless vehicles on a section of the Thames Path on the Greenwich Peninsula in southeast London. The government hopes they can transform urban transport, but with the tests forcing the temporary suspension of a cycle path, could any eventual widespread adoption affect the allocation of space for cycling?

The Royal Borough of Greenwich last year successfully bid for an £8 million grant to test three different types of the vehicles in partnership with the Transport Research Laboratory and the University of Greenwich.

The following video, posted to YouTube by Visit Greenwich yesterday, shows the trial of a driverless ‘pod’ supplied by Phoenix Wings under way on a cycle path between the O2 Arena – formerly the Millennium Dome – and John Harrison Way on the eastern side of the peninsula.

Earlier, concerns had been raised on Twitter by local blogger Darryl Chamberlain about the closure of the cycle path, although the footage shows that there is still ample space for cyclists and pedestrians to share space safely.

The trial, one of three being conducted and which address driverless vehicles' suitability not only on public highways but also as potentially part of separate transit system, does raise the question of whether the same might apply in more central locations with less space and higher footfall.

Funding for the pilot, as well as similar tests in Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes, was confirmed by Chancellor George Osborne in December’s Autumn Statement.

Nick Jones, lead technologist for the low carbon vehicle innovation platform at the government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, said at the time: “Cars that drive themselves would represent the most significant transformation in road travel since the introduction of the internal combustion engine and at Innovate UK, we want to help the UK to lead the world in making that happen.

“There are so many new and exciting technologies that can come together to make driverless cars a reality, but it’s vital that trials are carried out safely, that the public have confidence in that technology and we learn everything we can through the trials so that legal, regulation and protection issues don’t get in the way in the future,” he added.

The trials are aimed at convincing both the car industry and the public of the potential of driverless vehicles, with details of the individual schemes set out below.

Greenwich

The GATEway project is based in Greenwich, South East London, and will model how driverless cars could be implemented in London, and further afield. Led by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), testing will include automated electric shuttle vehicles, a demonstration of tele-operated driving and a simulated 3D model of the Greenwich peninsula. The project also aims to leave the legacy of a driverless vehicle test environment in Greenwich attracting international manufacturers and associated industries to the UK.

Coventry/Milton Keynes

UK Autodrive will be based jointly in Milton Keynes and Coventry. The programme will involve the demonstration of road-going cars and lightweight self-driving pods designed for pedestrianised spaces, and will be delivered on behalf of the UK by the City of Milton Keynes working in association with the City of Coventry. Other partners in the programme include JLR, Tata, Ford, RDM, Thales (UK), AXA, Wragge-Lawrence-Graham, Oxford University, Cambridge University, the Open University, and the new Transport Systems Catapult. Consulting group Arup has devised the programme and will provide programme management and technical co-ordination skills.

Bristol

The VENTURER consortium have joined forces to trial autonomous vehicles in Bristol, investigating the legal and insurance aspects of driverless cars and exploring how the public react to such vehicles. This programme aims to deepen understanding of the impact on road users and wider society and open up new opportunities for our economy and society. Bristol is surrounded by challenging terrain which will provide important data that can be used to successfully introduce driverless cars in cities and towns across the UK to reduce congestion, improve air quality and use roads more efficiently and safely.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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