Photo credits @ CAVFORTH

UK Government grants handed out to 7 autonomous vehicle projects

Passengers will be boarding the world’s first fully sized, self-driving bus service in Edinburgh from spring after it was awarded a share of £81 million in joint UK government and industry support for self-driving transport technology. The project is one of seven successful projects from around the UK partly funded by the state, out of which two projects are about building sustainable self-driving HGVs.

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The new bus service aims to “revolutionise” public transport and passenger travel to “better connect rural communities” and “reduce road collisions caused by human error”. The buses will run on a “captained basis” with two members on board to monitor the autonomous system and be available to assist passengers.

The project will also feature test track-based demonstrations where no safety driver will be on board with a view to assessing passenger experience.

The grants, part of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles Connected and Automated Mobility programme, will help British companies seize early opportunities to develop experimental projects into offerings ready for the market.

Apart from the CAVForth II – Fusion Processing project that is launching the aforementioned self-driving bus in Edinburgh, joint government and industry funding winners are:

  • Project V-CAL, being led by the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA), will run up to 4 zero-emission autonomous HGVs between the Vantec and Nissan Sunderland sites, on private roads where the vehicles will navigate traffic lights, roundabouts, and other road users. The HGVs will operate without any personnel on board but will be monitored by a remote safety driver as backup.
  • Hub2Hub – HVS: this project will deliver an all-new automated HGV for the UK market. The deployment trial of the autonomous HGV is planned for September 2024. Project partners include: Asda Stores Limited and Fusion Processing Ltd.
  • Sunderland Advanced Mobility Shuttle – City of Sunderland Council: this project will research, build, trial and evaluate the deployment of a highly automated, remotely supervised, zero-emission passenger mobility service in the City of Sunderland.
  • Project Harlander – Belfast Harbour: this project will establish Northern Ireland’s first operationally ready, scalable, and commercially viable deployment of a fully automated shuttle service on mixed-use public roads. The service will utilise a  multi-purpose automated vehicle that enables a cost-effective scaling of passenger services and the introduction of a goods delivery service.
  • Multi-Area Connected Automated Mobility – Conigital: this project looks to establish a self-driving vehicle operation around various parts of the West Midlands, underpinned by a centralised, Remote Monitoring Teleoperation (RMTO) centre. The RMTO centre will be where the project’s self-driving vehicles are monitored and (when required) controlled from, using 5G connectivity. The project aims to make self-driving vehicle operations commercially viable, and offset current technology and driver costs.
  • Project Cambridge Connector – Greater Cambridge Partnership: this project will pilot on-demand self-driving vehicles. Up to 13 electric vehicles will provide passenger services that integrate with existing transport services within Cambridge across two sites: Cambridge University’s West Cambridge Campus and the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

“In just a few years’ time, the business of self-driving vehicles could add tens of billions to our economy and create tens of thousands of jobs across the UK. This is a massive opportunity to drive forward our priority to grow the economy, which we are determined to seize,” said Business Secretary Grant Shapps.

Almost £600,000 is also being awarded for feasibility studies, looking into how self-driving technology could improve public transport in four parts of the UK. These projects will look into potential routes where automated vehicles could operate exclusively from other traffic, to relieve congestion on the A414 through Hertfordshire and Essex, parts of Eastern Cambridge, Birmingham and Solihull, and Milton Keynes.

“The Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) sector is of crucial importance to the UK, with the potential to deliver safer, cleaner and more efficient transport systems across a wide range of settings,” commented Innovate UK Executive Director for Net Zero, Mike Biddle.

Forecasts predict that by 2035, 40% of new UK car sales will have self-driving capabilities, with a total market value for connected and automated mobility worth £41.7 billion to the UK. This could create nearly 40,000 skilled jobs in connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technology.

The government is also intending to introduce legislation that will enable the safe and timely rollout of self-driving vehicles on UK roads.

Under a proposed ‘safety ambition’ for self-driving vehicles to be equivalent in safety to a competent and careful human driver, vehicles will need to meet certain standards to be allowed to ‘self-drive’ on the roads throughout the lifetime of the vehicle. Organisations overseeing self-driving vehicles could face sanctions if standards are not maintained.

Photo credits @ CAVFORTH