Driverless car in Milton Keynes, UK

UK hits the road with autonomous vehicles

The British government has made its first moves to support the development of the next generation of autonomous vehicles, awarding eight new projects a total of £20 million from its £100 million Intelligent Mobility Fund.

Driverless car in Milton Keynes, UK
Driverless car being tested during trials in Milton Keynes, UK

The government said the awards are intended to help fund research and development of “enhanced communication between vehicles and roadside infrastructure or urban information systems”, including what it calls new “talking car technologies”.

Brings to mind Kitt, the car nominally driven by David Hasselhoff in the 1980s classic television series, Knight Rider. Kitt – short for Knight Industries Two Thousand – was, of course, a fully autonomous car which could also talk. 

The car was a customised 1982 Pontiac Trans-Am sports model, which cost $100,000 at the time – which is equivalent to about a quarter of a million in today’s money.

It could be argued that, given Hasselhoff made his debut with Kitt in 1982, it’s taken a lot longer than one might have expected for real-life autonomous cars to emerge in the real world.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid said the projects which received funding range from developing autonomous shuttles to carry visually-impaired passengers using advanced sensors and control systems, to new simulation trials for autonomous pods to increase uptake and improve real-world trials.

Trials to test driverless cars on the streets are currently being worked on in Bristol, Coventry, Milton Keynes, and Greenwich. Autonomous vehicles are also being used in Heathrow to shuttle passengers, although these are currently on designated tracks.

The government says the UK has “a rich fabric of scientists and engineers who have established the UK as pioneers in the research and development of connected and autonomous vehicles”. Today’s funding will “help strengthen the UK as a global centre for the fast-growing intelligent mobility market”, estimated to be worth £900 billion per year globally by 2025.

Javid said: “Our cars of the future will be equipped with the technologies that will make getting from A to B safer, faster, and cleaner. They will alert drivers of accidents ahead and be able to receive information from their surroundings about hazards, increasing the safety of drivers, passengers and pedestrians.

“Britain is a world-leader in research and development in such innovative technologies which improve lives and create opportunity for all. That is why this government has protected the £6 billion science budget and is providing up to £20 million for these projects.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “These projects will help profoundly change the way we travel within years, transforming our roads by making travel a simpler experience for drivers, reducing accidents and helping traffic flow more smoothly. They will also bring great benefits to our society and the wider economy by opening up new routes for global investment.

“This is a landmark moment and will allow Britain to lead the way in the testing of connected and autonomous vehicles.”

Roland Meister, Head of Transport at the UK’s innovation experts Innovate UK, said: “The UK is rapidly becoming one of the best places in the world for companies to develop their Intelligent Mobility business.

“Driven by our work with the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles this competition has connected together the UK’s fantastic automotive industry, the research base, the insurance sector, public authorities with high growth businesses working in human behavioural science, telematics, information technology, communications, simulation, advanced sensor systems and machine learning.

“Through the funding and connections Innovate UK provides we are getting Intelligent Mobility ideas off the drawing board and into our lives, making us more productive, creating jobs, growth and exports.”

Chris Reeves, Commercial Manager, Future Transport Technologies and Intelligent Mobility at Horiba Mira, said: “This project will pave the way for the development and deployment of connected autonomous vehicles in the UK and help the industry address global challenges relating to safety, efficiency and convenience.

“It will help establish the UK as a global centre of excellence and drive forward the commercialisation of connected vehicles, and deliver a major wealth creation and inward investment opportunity for the UK.”

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: “Britain is uniquely placed to become a global leader in connected and autonomous vehicle development, technology that has the potential to generate around £51 billion for the UK economy, save 2,500 lives and generate 320,000 jobs.

“This first allocation of the government’s funding pledge, which will be matched by industry, is an important first step on the road to realising that opportunity.

“All the projects have received financial backing from industry in addition to government funding, and are backed by leading automotive businesses, engineering firms, IT specialists, universities and local authorities.

“The UK Connected Intelligent Transport Environment (UKCITE) project, which the Business Secretary will visit today, includes HORIBA MIRA, Jaguar Land Rover, Siemens, and Vodafone Group amongst others. He will also see demonstrations and simulations of the Flourish and Move UK projects.

“In addition to the 8 collaborative R&D projects, the Business Secretary also announced 14 feasibility studies to identify where additional data could help the UK CAV market develop further.”

The 8 collaborative research and development projects to receive government funding are:

1. UK Connected Intelligent Transport Environment (UKCITE): a project to create the most advanced environment for testing connected and autonomous vehicles. It involves equipping over 40 miles of urban roads, dual-carriageways and motorways with combinations of 3 “talking car technologies” and testing for a fourth, known as LTE-V. The project will establish how this technology can improve journeys; reduce traffic congestion; and provide entertainment and safety services through better connectivity. (Total project: £5.6 million; BIS funding: £3.4 million; duration: 30 months; consortium members: Visteon Engineering Services Limited, Jaguar Land Rover Ltd, Coventry City Council, Siemens PLC, Vodafone Group Services Ltd, Huawei Technologies (UK) Co Ltd, Horiba Mira, Coventry University, University of Warwick (WMG), Highways England Company Ltd.)

2. Insight: a project to develop driverless shuttles with advanced sensors and control systems and trial them in city pedestrian areas, with a particular focus on improving urban accessibility for disabled and visually-impaired people. (£2.2 million; £1.5 million; 36 months; Westfield Sportscars Limited, Heathrow Enterprises Ltd, Fusion Processing Ltd, Creative Example Ltd, Conigital Ltd, Birmingham City University.)

3. Tools for autonomous logistics operations and management: this project is a collaboration bringing together transport modellers and the computer games industry to develop new modelling and help improve the return on investment into Connected and Autonomous Vehicle fleets significantly. (£3.2 million; £2 million; 36 months; Immense Simulations Ltd, Improbable Ltd.)

4. FLOURISH: this project will help develop innovative new tools to improve the understanding of user needs and expectations of connected and autonomous vehicles. It will be based in the Bristol City Region and will test capabilities in both urban and suburban networked environments. (£5.5 million; £3.7 million; 36 months; Atkins Limited, Age UK, Airbus Group Limited, React AI Ltd (Aiseedo), AXA UK plc, Bristol City Council, Imtech Traffic & Infra UK Limited, Office for Public Management Ltd, South Gloucestershire Council, Designability, Transport Systems Catapult, TSS – Transport Simulation Systems Ltd, University of Bristol, University of the West of England, Bristol

5. MOVE-UK: this project will be focused on accelerating the development, market readiness and deployment of automated driving systems. (£5.5 million; £3.4 million; 36 months; Bosch, Jaguar Land Rover Limited, TRL Limited, The Floow Limited, Direct Line Insurance, Royal Borough of Greenwich.)

6. INnovative Testing of Autonomous Control Techniques (INTACT): this project will reduce the cost of testing and evaluating autonomous control systems in a safe, repeatable, controlled and scientifically rigorous environment. (£1 million; £850k; 24 months; Richmond Design and Marketing Ltd, University of Warwick.)

7. Pathway to Autonomous Commercial Vehicles: this project will develop an innovative solution to monitor key information from the vehicle and predict safety risks based on analytics. It will build on a prototype which monitors tyre pressures and temperatures in commercial vehicles, combined with always-on network connection. (£1.2 million; £900k; 24 months; Tructyre Fleet Management Ltd, University of Portsmouth, Satellite Applications Catapult, RL Automotive.)

8. i-MOTORS – Intelligent Mobility for Future Cities Transport Systems: i-MOTORS will deliver a connected Vehicle to Anything (V2X) system via a mobile platform as a proof of concept. In addition, the project will develop hardware which will receive and analyse sensory data in real-time from multiple locations via online cloud technology to raise the standard of data-processing in the connected and autonomous driving industry.