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Public trial of ‘last mile’ pods underway in London

The public will be able to ride in one of the driverless pods along a 2-kilometre route

Members of the public are being invited to test a fleet of driverless pods in Greenwich, London as part of a research project to help shape ‘last mile’ transport.

Over the next four weeks, visitors and residents at the Greenwich Peninsula will have the opportunity to engage with the new technology and share their experiences.

“Typically these type of vehicles are described as suitable for ‘last mile’ transport or ‘micro transit’,” Trevor Dorling, Managing Director, Digital Greenwich, told Cities Today. “In reality, we see vehicles of this type connecting people with mass transit systems and destinations over several miles, and importantly being integrated with public transport to increase access to, and use of public transport. We see them as part of the wider city transport system.”

The trials mark the final phase of the GATEway Project, which is using a fleet of automated pods to understand public acceptance of, and attitudes towards, driverless vehicles. The prototype pods are limited to a 9 kp/h speed and while they could be run faster, for the purposes of the research and development programme, Dorling says that this speed is ideal.

The public will be able to ride in one of the driverless pods along a 2-kilometre route around the Greenwich Peninsula. They will then be able to comment on their experience and perceptions of the technology via an online survey.

Trevor Dorling, Managing Director, Digital Greenwich

“With driverless technology becoming increasingly advanced, it is important we understand how cities respond to maximise the benefits of its use for cities, residents and businesses,” added Dorling. “The GATEway project has run multiple trials over the lifetime of the project including the first public deliveries by an autonomous cargo pod, and public trials of autonomous valet parking. A key feature of the trials has been to understand people’s reaction to autonomous vehicles and to understand the potential impact on cities and urban planning.”

Results of the trial will published by Digital Greenwich in a white paper on the opportunities autonomous vehicles presents to rethink spatial planning.

“The next challenge is to operate freely in an urban environment with varied and complex conditions and offering the ability to go from anywhere, to anywhere,” said Dorling. “We will certainly see trials of this nature within 10 years.”

The research and trials is a collaboration with Westfield Sportscars, Fusion Processing, Gobotix and Oxbotica with qualitative research undertaken by the University of Greenwich, Commonplace–an online consultation platform–, and the Royal College of Art, led by TRL, a centre for innovation in transport and mobility.