An artificial intelligence (AI) company based in Oxford, is planning to bring driverless cars to the streets of the UK. Oxbotica is leading a consortium of companies that will help to cement the UK’s reputation as a world leader in the development of autonomous vehicles.
The DRIVEN consortium, which benefits from a £8.6m grant awarded by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles and delivered through Innovate UK, is a project that will see a fleet of fully autonomous vehicles being deployed in urban areas and on motorways, culminating in an end-to-end journey from London to Oxford.
The government has promised around £100m in total towards autonomous driving projects in the UK and has stated it wants Britain to, ‘lead the way in developing’ the technology.
These vehicles will be operating at Level 4 autonomy - meaning they have the capability of performing all safety critical driving functions and monitoring roadway conditions for an entire trip, with zero passenger occupancy. No connected and autonomous vehicle trial at this level of complexity and integration has ever been attempted anywhere in the world.
The consortium’s 30 month project plan, which is due to commence this month, will shake-up both the transportation and insurance industries by seeking to remove fundamental barriers to real world commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles. Key challenges the consortium will address include - communication and data sharing between connected vehicles; connected and autonomous vehicles insurance modelling; risk profiling and the new cyber security challenges that this amount of data sharing will bring.
A major part of the consortium’s work will include the use of a fleet of six inter-communicating vehicles equipped with Selenium, Oxbotica’s cutting edge vehicle manufacturer (OEM) agnostic software. As a platform, Selenium provides any vehicle it is applied to with an awareness of where it is, what surrounds it and, with that knowledge in hand, how it should move to complete a task.
The project will radically transform how insurance and autonomous vehicles will work together in connected cities. A key challenge will be how to insure autonomous fleets of vehicles with the consortium planning to develop a system that automatically takes into account data from the vehicle and external sources that surround it, for example, traffic control systems.
The project will also address data protection and cyber security concerns raised by international policymakers and law enforcement agencies around the world by defining common security and privacy policies related to connected and autonomous vehicles.
Besides Oxbotica, other partners involved in the UK project include Oxford Robotics Institute, re/insurer XL Catlin, Nominet, Telefonica O2 UK, TRL, the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s RACE, Oxfordshire County Council, Transport for London and Westbourne Communications.
However, one expert has suggested the company does run the risk of falling behind what is being completed abroad.
"Britain is trying to keep up, but the big development in the field is going on elsewhere," said Prof David Bailey from Aston Business School. That includes Google in the US, Volvo in China and Daimler in Germany.”
It is reported the amount being committed by the UK are relatively small beer.
Commenting on DRIVEN’s launch, Dr Graeme Smith, Chief Executive of Oxbotica, said: “Today’s news is truly ground-breaking. No company, group or consortium of autonomy experts has ever attempted what DRIVEN is planning over the next 30 months. We are seeking to address some of the most fundamental challenges preventing the future commercial deployment of fully autonomous vehicles. I have full confidence in DRIVEN’s world leading and internationally respected team of specialists to deliver this project.”
Professor Paul Newman, Head of the Oxford Robotics Institute based at the University of Oxford, and one of Oxbotica’s founders, said: “DRIVEN is the first of its kind and brings a host of new questions surrounding the way these vehicles will communicate with each other. We’re moving from the singleton autonomous vehicle, to fleets of autonomous vehicles – and what’s interesting to us at the Oxford Robotics Institute is what data the vehicles share with one another, when and why.”
Richard Jinks, who leads the project at XL Catlin, said: “Working on this project gives us the opportunity to work with leading external parties to create a risk profiling tool and insurance pricing mechanism which is truly revolutionary.”
Dr Rob Buckingham, Head of RACE, said: “DRIVEN is important because it will answer questions around cyber security and insurance as well as the underlying technology. RACE has a key supporting role - enabling testing on the Culham Science Centre site before we venture on the public roads. DRIVEN reinforces our aspiration to enable connected and autonomous vehicles to be widely adopted. Starting in Oxfordshire we are already thinking about how autonomous vehicles fit within a modern transport plan for both Oxford and Didcot Garden Town. DRIVEN is a very important step on this journey.”
Russell Haworth, CEO, Nominet said: “For autonomous cars to become mainstream, the correct framework must be in place so they can run safely and effectively. Working as part of this strong consortium, our team will be part of the work that helps tackle those infrastructure challenges and keep the UK at the forefront of this exciting field.”
Llewelyn Morgan, Service Manager Infrastructure, Innovation & Development for Communities at the county council added: “Oxfordshire County Council has a vision of technology playing a leading role in transport in the coming years, and we have already adopted a pioneering vision of how intelligent mobility will play a key role in supporting the growth of Oxfordshire.
“The sort of technology that we are going to see being trialled as a result of this announcement has the potential to be the real game-changer. It will be incredible to have driverless vehicles being tested in the city and across the county and it will really allow people to see up-close how this technology will actually work.”
Iwan Parry, Head of Insurance at TRL, concluded: “To support the successful adoption of CAVs, it is important to consider the enabling elements of insurance and vehicle interaction with traffic management systems, alongside the fundamental requirement of safe and controlled testing of the technology itself. Through DRIVEN, TRL will work with consortia partners to develop a structure for an integrated transport approach that sees vehicles connect seamlessly to urban traffic control systems. Innovative and dynamic insurance methodologies are also vital to ensure a confident reception to CAVs on UK roads.”