The scheme, which is backed by £8.9m of government funding as well as industry support, is an ambitious attempt to bring cars with Level 4 autonomy to UK roads. This means the vehicles will be able to drive themselves ‘most of the time’ without any human input.
The proposed fleet will eventually consist of six cars, but three have been unveiled today. They are a white and blue 2014 Ford Fusion Titanium hybrid, a 2017 Ford Mondeo hybrid, and a Range Rover Evoque.
These vehicles will appear in self-driving mode on public roads around Oxford from early next year, with the goal of completing several journeys between Oxford and London in 2019.
“We’re hugely excited to be unveiling the cars we’ll be using to run our autonomous driving trials in our special DRIVEN livery,” said Graeme Smith, DRIVEN project director and CEO of Oxbotica, which is running the trial. “While local residents around our Oxford office will have had a few sneak previews of our first vehicle, now everyone can see our Range Rover Evoque, Ford Mondeo and Ford Fusion as they will appear early next year in self-driving mode on public roads around Oxford and then along the Oxford to London corridor.”
Last week, IMechE called for greater awareness of self-driving trials following a study which revealed a lack of trust among the general public. "These cars could be a particularly eye-catching colour, and their presence on busy city roads could help make people more aware of, accustomed to and accepting of the technology,” Philippa Oldham, IMechE's head of transport and manufacturing, told Professional Engineering.
The DRIVEN consortium's test fleet will be clearly branded, which could help. “High visibility branding of the test vehicles is a good thing, as they move from extensive off-road trials to streets where they’ll be mixing with everyday traffic, so that we know not to panic when we see one approaching with no-one holding the steering wheel,” said Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation.
The vehicles are fitted with Oxbotica’s autonomy software, called Selenium, as well as lidar sensors, computers and cameras. They are currently being tested at RACE’s AV test facility at the Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire, where they’re learning how to navigate roundabouts, tricky junctions, and interactions with pedestrians and other vehicles.
From January, the vehicles will share data with insurance partner XL Catlin, with the aim of enabling ‘insurance in the loop,’ under which cover could be automatically granted when the vehicle is in autonomous mode.