Pods for GenZ driv­ers

Ox­ford Univer­sity in tests of ‘cars’ made for the selfie-shar­ing gen­er­a­tion

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING -

ENG­LAND last week saw the first of three “pod” ve­hi­cles go on trial to see how self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles can mix in pedes­trian zones.

The elec­tric-pow­ered Lutz Pathfinder pod was pre­sented to com­muters and other mem­bers of the public by Coven­try-based man­u­fac­tur­ers RDM Group as part of the Trans­port Sys­tems Cat­a­pult.

Ox­ford Univer­sity’s Mo­bile Ro­bot­ics Group (MRG) made the pod’s au­ton­o­mous con­trol sys­tem (ACS).

Coven­try Univer­sity stu­dent Harry Hess was the lucky first mem­ber of the public to go for a ride in the pod, and the 24-year-old said he was look­ing for­ward to the day when he could use one with­out a steer­ing wheel.

“I’d be quite happy to use a driver­less ve­hi­cle,” the maths and sta­tis­tics stu­dent said af­ter­wards. “I’d use it for trips into town, and I think this is the way all cars will go once peo­ple get more used to the idea.”

The pod will un­dergo a se­ries of cal­i­bra­tion tests at a pri­vate test track be­fore re­turn­ing to Milton Keynes for the start of the public tri­als dur­ing Oc­to­ber.

“This is a very ex­cit­ing day for ev­ery­body in­volved in the Lutz Pathfinder pro­ject, be­cause it sig­nals the com­ple­tion of the man­u­fac­tur­ing phase and the ef­fec­tive start of the au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy trial,” said Trans­port Sys­tems Cat­a­pult CEO Steve Yianni.

“When you con­sider that there wasn’t even a de­sign in place for this ve­hi­cle less than 18 months ago, it has been a re­ally quick turn­around to now have our first re­search ve­hi­cle ready to start work, and this has only been pos­si­ble as a re­sult of our suc­cess­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion with RDM, MRG and Milton Keynes Coun­cil.”

Once the ACS has been in­stalled, the public tri­als will get un­der­way in Milton Keynes, with the pods be­ing driven ini­tially in man­ual mode — al­low­ing them to map and ‘learn’ their en­vi­ron­ment. They will then be­gin to op­er­ate in au­ton­o­mous mode, but with a trained op­er­a­tor still re­main­ing in each pod, ready to take back con­trol of the ve­hi­cle if nec­es­sary. The pods will have a max­i­mum ca­pa­ble speed of 24km/h but will be lim­ited elec­tron­i­cally depend­ing upon the en­vi­ron­ment they are trav­el­ling in (for ex­am­ple, mov­ing more slowly in con­gested ar­eas).

Safety first

“Safety has been our para­mount con­cern through­out the plan­ning process, which is why we will con­tinue to have a hu­man op­er­a­tor at the wheel for the du­ra­tion of the trial,” Mr Yianni added. “But the Lutz Pathfinder pro­ject is an im­por­tant first step to­wards a fu­ture where self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles can be called up on de­mand, as and when peo­ple need them.”

David Keene, RDM Group CEO said: “To­day rep­re­sents an ex­cit­ing stage for the Lutz Pathfinder pro­ject and is a key mile­stone for RDM. We con­tinue to de­velop our au­ton­o­mous pod plat­form which has world­wide ap­pli­ca­tions within many trans­porta­tion sec­tors. The pro­ject is en­abling the au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles to be tested and eval­u­ated in their in­tended en­vi­ron­ment”

Pro­fes­sor Paul New­man of Ox­ford’s MRG said: “We are now very much look­ing for­ward to fur­ther de­vel­op­ing, de­ploy­ing and then test­ing our ‘Mer­cury’ au­ton­omy sys­tem on this ve­hi­cle. This is an im­por­tant and ex­cit­ing stage in this pro­ject which will then en­able us to test the tech­nol­ogy’s po­ten­tial in the public tri­als.”

The ar­rival of the first pod was also wel­comed by Pete Mar­land, leader of Milton Keynes Coun­cil, who said: “It is fan­tas­tic that Milton Keynes is at the fore­front of this global tech­nol­ogy race, and see­ing them on the streets will be amaz­ing.

“Our aim is to show that they can work as a means of public trans­port, with peo­ple be­ing able to use their smart­phones to or­der a pod, so it makes sense that the com­muters at Milton Keynes Cen­tral are the first to see the pods.

“Hav­ing the pods here to­day is one step closer to hav­ing them as part of ev­ery­day life in MK.”

Find­ings from the Lutz Pathfinder pro­ject will also be used to sup­port the larg­er­scale UK Au­to­drive pro­gramme, which is set to trial a fleet of 40 self-driv­ing pods, as well as “reg­u­lar” road­based cars, in Milton Keynes and Coven­try.

PHOTO: LUTZ PATHFINDER PRO­JECT

Pods like this may be­come units in a mod­u­lar public trans­port sys­tem, which can be or­dered on a smart­phone.

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