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Oxford Tests Get Autonomous Vehicles Rolling Ahead of 2021 Goal

Michael Behr

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Project Endeavour autonomous vehicles

The tests will help develop the use of autonomous vehicles ahead of the UK Government’s planned rollout of the technology by 2021.

Six self-driving cars will be trialled in Oxford this week as part of Project Endeavour, a programme to accelerate and scale the rollout of autonomous vehicles across UK cities.

Oxford-based autonomous vehicle company Oxbotica has modified six Ford Mondeos with Level 4 autonomous driving capabilities.

Level 4 is the second-highest level of the six-level (0-5) autonomous driving scale. High Automation means the vehicle’s driving system is capable of drive independently under human supervision. Should a driver fail to intervene when needed, the vehicle can pull over safely using a guiding system.

The cars will drive nine miles in a round trip from Oxford Parkway station to Oxford Railway Station. The route will consist of around three miles of the relatively straight A4165, which runs through central Oxford. The route will be run multiple times at various times of day and night to test the system on different operating conditions.

Senior Vice-President at Oxbotica and Project Endeavour Consortium Director Dr Graeme Smith said: “The first live on-road public trials mark a key landmark for Project Endeavour as we work with local authorities and members of the public in London, Oxford and other major UK cities to shape the future of mobility.”

Project Endeavour will consist of road trials in multiple locations and public consultations as it demonstrates and tests the viability of autonomous urban driving and builds engagement models.

The project is backed by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and delivered in partnership with Innovate UK.

Next year, the project will expand to include trials in Greenwich and an additional, unannounced UK city. The project is expected to run until autumn 2021.

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The UK is pushing to have driverless vehicles on the UK’s road by 2021.

One of the first Automated Driving technologies that the government aims to allow are Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKSs). These could be used on the UK’s motorways at speeds of up to 70 mph from spring next year but are currently dependent on the result of a safety consultation that ends on 27th October 2020.

However, there has been a backlash against the accelerated nature of the UK’s automated vehicle plans. Insurance industry groups Thatcham Research and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) have urged the UK government to rethink its plans to introduce the ALKS technology on its current schedule.

The groups warned that the technology and the regulations around them are not developed enough and may put road users’ lives at risk.

“With today’s radar sensors only able to monitor a relatively short distance up the carriageway and Automated Lane Keeping System-equipped cars bound by legislation that will not allow them to change lane autonomously, it’s crucial that sensor performance moves on dramatically before a system can be classified as ‘Automated’,” said Thatcham Research Director of Research Matthew Avery.

Michael Behr

Senior Staff Writer

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