Autonomous passenger shuttle service trialled in Oxfordshire

A fully autonomous passenger shuttle service has begun trials on UK roads today.

Autonomous Shuttle HarwellAn autonomous shuttle will transport passengers around Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, which is home to some of the UK’s most innovative companies and research organisations. It follows a similar, Council-led, trial in Solihull.

The shuttle, created by Navya, uses LiDAR sensors, cameras and ultrasound sensors to navigate safely around any obstacles. It also features a satellite (GNSS) antenna for positioning. There is no steering wheel, but it does have safety controls, which will be managed by an on-board operator throughout the trial.

Darwin will maintain and monitor the service, tracking the shuttle’s location and gathering information about its operation as it travels. Telematics data will be transmitted from the shuttle in real time using Hispasat’s satellite communication channels and O2’s 4G and 5G networks.

The use of satellite communications in this trial is significant. In previous trials, autonomous vehicles have relied on terrestrial Wi-Fi to stay connected. By making use of satellites in addition to 4G and 5G, autonomous vehicles can operate even in rural or remote areas that may not yet have complete terrestrial coverage.

"Until now autonomous vehicles have relied on terrestrial Wi-Fi which means they can struggle to operate in remote and rural areas," explained Science Minister George Freeman. "These new shuttles can stay connected all the time.Autonomous vehicle technology has huge applications in key industries and the UK is committed to lead in adoption as well as technological innovation."

This shuttle service will help demonstrate the potential of self-driving vehicles to operate in a real-world setting, serving as a step towards the wider use of this technology in the UK. Similar Navya shuttles have been used in an urban setting in Switzerland and have safely transported tens of thousands of passengers.

The shuttle, which is battery powered, shows that the future of public transportation can be green as well as autonomous. The potential to transport passengers while emitting zero carbon, if put in place more widely, could help the UK towards its emission targets.

The shuttle service has already created new jobs at the campus: shuttle safety operators and shuttle mechanics. The people working with the shuttle will be able to share their experience with technology colleges and help improve the available courses.

In addition to Darwin, Navya, ESA and UK Space Agency, a range of organisations have supported the new shuttle service. Mobile operator O2 and satellite operator Hispasat have aided Darwin in its research into connectivity, and the shuttle will make use of their networks as it travels around the campus. O2 also provides added investment to Darwin, as well as supporting with patent development. Harwell Science Campus and STFC are hosting the service, and AWS is providing storage for the data produced by the shuttle.

The shuttle is insured by Aviva, which will use the trial and resulting data to better understand the evolving mobility market. With this information, Aviva will be able to create innovative insurance products to cater for this fast-changing market, including autonomous vehicles and associated technologies.

The autonomous shuttle service operates at Harwell Science Campus during weekdays, morning to evening. It travels two routes, and there is no cost to ride the shuttle.

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