Transport: Britain's first self-driving SHUTTLES take to the streets of Cambridge


The streets of Cambridge are to play host to Britain’s first self-driving shuttle from today in milestone tests that will see the bus ferry passengers on a busy main road.

Developed by Aurrigo, the three Auto-Shuttles will run a two-mile route from Madingley Road Park and Ride around the University of Cambridge’s West Campus.

This is the first time that a custom-made driverless shuttle has operated a route in the UK while surrounded by other traffic, bicycles and pedestrians. 

Each shuttle will be able to seat 10 passengers after social distancing measures are lifted, with the passengers selected for the trial using an app to arrange a journey.

The streets of Cambridge are to play host to Britain's first self-driving shuttle (pictured) from today in milestone tests that will see the bus ferry passengers on a busy main road

The streets of Cambridge are to play host to Britain’s first self-driving shuttle (pictured) from today in milestone tests that will see the bus ferry passengers on a busy main road

AUTO-SHUTTLE STATS 

Aurrigo’s Auto-Shuttle is the world’s first conventionally driven electric and autonomous purpose-built vehicle.

Range: 120 miles (193 kilometres)

Motor: 22 kilowatt electric 

Capacity: 10 (w/o social distancing) 

This includes space for wheelchair users and pushchairs, with an automatic ramp to facilitate access. 

The trial, conducted in collaboration with Greater Cambridge Partnership and Smart Cambridge, will help explore how self-driving tech can be used for public transport.

Should the test be successful, driverless buses may be used to link up Cambridge’s other research campuses with the railway stations and ‘Park and Ride’ sites.

West Cambridge was chosen for the trials, the team explained, because it provided the perfect environment to put the buses through their paces.

During each trial, safety operators will be present onboard the shuttles and ready to assume manual control if required for any reason.

Safety operators will be on board the vehicles during the project trials and are able to regain manual control of the vehicle immediately at any time if required.

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‘This is another major milestone in the journey towards making autonomous vehicles a reality on our roads,’ explained Aurrigo’s chief executive officer, David Keene.

‘We’ve completed successful trials in city centres, in retirement complexes and at major golf tournaments, but this is the first time these vehicles will be sharing the route with everyday traffic.

‘The shuttles, which have been designed and manufactured at our Advanced Engineering Centre in Coventry, will operate the 20-minute journey around the West Cambridge route.

‘They will run autonomously for the majority of the route using our in-house developed Auto-Stack driving software and the latest LIDAR and camera technology to identify potential hazards as they move around.

‘Our technology will help provide new transport solutions for city centres, shopping and care facilities, airports and heritage sites. The trial in Cambridge is the next step in proving it.’

This is the first time that a custom-made driverless shuttle has operated a route in the UK while surrounded by other traffic, bicycles and pedestrians

This is the first time that a custom-made driverless shuttle has operated a route in the UK while surrounded by other traffic, bicycles and pedestrians

The advent of the Cambridge-based trials had been delayed by the pandemic, with the mapping of the route only having now been completed.

When operating, the shuttles consult this map in tandem with its changing surroundings — examined through an array of cameras, laser scanners and sensors — in order to allow them to move safely through their environment on their own.

On the official maiden journey taking place today will be Minister for the Future of Transport Rachel Maclean.

‘Self-driving vehicles present a number of opportunities for the UK, from providing safer, greener and more reliable transport services to creating tens of thousands of well-paid and skilled jobs across the nation,’ she said.

‘This project is hugely exciting and is an example of how self-driving vehicles could make it easier for people to travel on the UK’s future public transport network.’

‘It is very exciting to see these vehicles working on real roads here as another first in Cambridge,’ said GCP Executive Board member Claire Ruskin.

‘These shuttles could be used on demand all day and night, every day of the year — which is unaffordable with our existing public transport.

‘They are flexible and make good use of resources without needing significant infrastructure.

‘As employment around Cambridge is 24/7 for many organisations — including our hospitals, emergency services, and many of our labs — we have been anticipating this new technology to see how real operation will help people get around.

‘This trial is part of wider plans by the Greater Cambridge Partnership to help the area work sustainably as it continues to deliver world-leading innovation for the UK.’

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Developed by Aurrigo, the three Auto-Shuttles will run a two-mile route from Madingley Road Park and Ride around the University of Cambridge’s West Campus

West Cambridge was chosen for the trials, the team explained, because it provided the perfect environment to put the buses through their paces

West Cambridge was chosen for the trials, the team explained, because it provided the perfect environment to put the buses through their paces

SELF-DRIVING CARS ‘SEE’ USING LIDAR, CAMERAS AND RADAR

Self-driving cars often use a combination of normal two-dimensional cameras and depth-sensing ‘LiDAR’ units to recognise the world around them.

However, others make use of visible light cameras that capture imagery of the roads and streets. 

They are trained with a wealth of information and vast databases of hundreds of thousands of clips which are processed using artificial intelligence to accurately identify people, signs and hazards.   

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In LiDAR (light detection and ranging) scanning – which is used by Waymo – one or more lasers send out short pulses, which bounce back when they hit an obstacle.

These sensors constantly scan the surrounding areas looking for information, acting as the ‘eyes’ of the car.

While the units supply depth information, their low resolution makes it hard to detect small, faraway objects without help from a normal camera linked to it in real time.

In November last year Apple revealed details of its driverless car system that uses lasers to detect pedestrians and cyclists from a distance.

The Apple researchers said they were able to get ‘highly encouraging results’ in spotting pedestrians and cyclists with just LiDAR data.

They also wrote they were able to beat other approaches for detecting three-dimensional objects that use only LiDAR.

Other self-driving cars generally rely on a combination of cameras, sensors and lasers. 

An example is Volvo’s self driving cars that rely on around 28 cameras, sensors and lasers.

A network of computers process information, which together with GPS, generates a real-time map of moving and stationary objects in the environment.

Twelve ultrasonic sensors around the car are used to identify objects close to the vehicle and support autonomous drive at low speeds.

A wave radar and camera placed on the windscreen reads traffic signs and the road’s curvature and can detect objects on the road such as other road users.

Four radars behind the front and rear bumpers also locate objects.

Two long-range radars on the bumper are used to detect fast-moving vehicles approaching from far behind, which is useful on motorways.

Four cameras – two on the wing mirrors, one on the grille and one on the rear bumper – monitor objects in close proximity to the vehicle and lane markings. 



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