Driverless pods are being trialled this week at Filton Airfield as part of a pilot scheme that will pave the way for the use of connected and autonomous vehicles to move people around airports, hospitals, business parks, shopping and tourist centres. The closed test at the disused airfield in north Bristol is the first of four trials under the pilot, which is being delivered by Capri, an AECOM-led consortium that was awarded funding last year from Innovate UK and the Centre for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV).
During the two week trial the pods’ safety critical features are being assessed along with participant comfort testing. The trial will inform the pods’ first public appearance later this year when they will transport members of the public around The Mall at South Gloucestershire’s Cribbs Causeway retail park. The project will culminate in an on-road public trial at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, a diverse estate that includes retail, recreation, residential and business centres.
Focusing on trips of up to five miles to connect people to places, Capri is developing the next generation of autonomous pods, as well as the systems and technologies that will allow the vehicles to navigate safely and seamlessly in both pedestrian and on-road environments, known as ‘dual-mode’. The consortium is looking at how the network can harness data to enable location, positioning and on-demand services to help support a wider rollout of dual-mode autonomous pods.
An engagement day was also held at the trial with two local schools – Digitech Studio School and Filton Primary School – to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) activities in the region.
George Lunt, Technical Director, AECOM, said: “Connected and autonomous vehicles are predicted to make a huge impact on society, but require significant research and development to support their future commercial use. With a wide range of potential markets for on-demand mobility services, our pilot has clear economic benefits that will inform the business cases for these types of schemes. The trial at Filton Airfield is the first important milestone for this pilot and will inform our next trial due to take place in a public environment at a busy shopping centre.”
The 2.5km runway at Filton Airfield provides an excellent opportunity for the consortium to set up and test the autonomous pods in a safe and controlled environment. The runway is central to a major brownfield development that includes 2,675 homes and was granted planning permission in October 2017. Capri consortium member YTL Developments owns the airfield and is developing the site.
Zoe Sharpe, YTL Developments, said: “We are delighted to support this pathfinding project which could transform the way we use the car. Sustainable modes of transport play an important role in how mixed-use development schemes are planned and implemented. To be a part of this exploratory trial is very exciting. Filton Airfield has seen many technological milestones in its time. As the site turns the page on its next chapter, this trial demonstrates a continued commitment to ground breaking technology.”
The Capri consortium consists of a team of experts including global enterprises with established multidisciplinary expertise, academic institutions at the cutting-edge of automotive research, and SMEs developing exciting new technology solutions. A large number of consortium partners are based in the West of England, putting the region at the forefront of this rapidly developing sector.
Leader of South Gloucestershire Council Cllr Toby Savage, said: “South Gloucestershire Council is proud to be one of the country’s leading centres for innovation and at the forefront of connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) research and development. As an area where industry and research institutes are already choosing to innovate, we are open to providing the infrastructure, platforms and resource at our disposal to support innovation. We have a wealth of hi-tech businesses and a skilled workforce in South Gloucestershire and we want to support these to grow and we also want to inspire the engineers of the future through these innovative science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) activities.”
The Capri consortium was awarded the funding as part of a CCAV and Innovate UK competition to invest £35 million in industry-led research and development projects on CAVs. The aim of the competition was to find projects that would deliver technical solutions for CAVs that provide real-world benefits to users and where the commercial benefit is clear.