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    What is UK Autodrive?

    We are a consortium of leading technology and automotive businesses, forward thinking local authorities and academic institutions who are working together on a major three-year UK trial of self-driving vehicle and connected car technologies. The trial will culminate in a series of urban demonstrations on selected public roads and footpaths in the host cities of Milton Keynes and Coventry. As well as showcasing the latest technology, UK Autodrive will also investigate other important aspects of automated driving – including safety and cyber-security, legal and insurance issues, public acceptance for connected and autonomous vehicles and the potential business models for turning automated driving systems into a widespread reality.

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    How is the programme funded?

    UK Autodrive is the largest of three separate consortia that are currently trialling automated vehicle systems as part of the government’s “Introducing driverless cars to UK roads” competition. The project is jointly funded by government and industry, and delivered by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, with the total investment adding up to approximately £19.4 million. For more on the two other consortia taking part in the competition, see the Venturer and GATEway websites.

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    What are the programme’s main aims?

    As part of the “Introducing driverless cars to UK roads” competition, the UK Autodrive programme will help to establish the UK as a global hub for the research, development and integration of automated and connected vehicles into society. We will also use the programme to increase public awareness of autonomous vehicle and connected car technologies, and to enable cities to understand how they can best facilitate and benefit from automated transport systems.

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    Which organisations are part of UK Autodrive and what are their roles?

    Our consortium is made up of 16 members, all of whom have specific responsibilities and areas of expertise:

    • Arup is the programme leader and technical co-ordinator
    • Milton Keynes is the host city for the programme
    • Coventry is the co-host city for the programme
    • Jaguar Land Rover is providing M1 (passenger car) vehicles and autonomous technologies
    • Tata Motors European Technical Centre is providing M1 vehicles and autonomous technologies
    • Ford Motor Company is providing two M1 prototype vehicles capable of car-to-x communication technologies
    • RDM Group is providing low-speed autonomous transport system (L-SATS) ‘pods’ along with telematics for the pods
    • HORIBA MIRA is providing proving-ground test facilities and are leading on safety case developments for the programme
    • The Transport Systems Catapult is leading on the dissemination of the programme’s results
    • Oxbotica is providing hardware, software and expertise on autonomous technologies
    • Thales is providing expertise on infrastructure systems and cyber-security
    • AXA is providing expertise on insurance matters relating to the introduction of autonomous vehicles
    • The University of Cambridge is undertaking research on the large-scale impact of autonomous vehicles
    • Oxford University’s Mobile Robotics Group is providing expertise and research for the further development of autonomous control systems for multi-vehicle operation
    • The Open University is providing a link to the ongoing MK:SMART programme
    • Gowling WLG is providing expertise on legal matters relating to the introduction of autonomous vehicles
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    What vehicles are involved?

    We will be trialling automated vehicle and connected vehicle technologies using two distinct types of vehicle:

    The first will be ‘regular’ passenger vehicles (M1 classification) provided by Jaguar Land Rover, Ford Motor Company and Tata Motors European Technical Centre. These will look very much like the cars we are used to seeing on roads now, but will feature increasingly advanced autonomous and connected vehicle communications systems. A total of seven M1 cars are due to take part in the programme (three provided by Jaguar Land Rover and two each by Ford Motor Company and Tata Motors European Technical Centre).

    The second type of vehicle will be low-speed electric-powered ‘pods’ provided by RDM Group. These will be similar in appearance to the three pods being trialled in Milton Keynes as part of the initial LUTZ Pathfinder project. By the latter stages of the programme, it is planned to have a fleet of 40 autonomous pods operating on pedestrianised sections of Milton Keynes.

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    What will the vehicles be able to do? Are they fully driverless? Will they drive around with no one in them?

    The M1 vehicles will be trialling technologies that offer ever-increasing levels of automation and driver assistance with the aim of reaching fully autonomous operation in some controlled circumstances. Some of the cars in the road-based trials will be used to demonstrate car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communications systems, rather than autonomous systems.

    The pavement-based pods are designed to operate completely autonomously. By the end of the programme the pods will be used to demonstrate a small-scale public transport system in Milton Keynes. Earlier stages of the programme will be used to trial and demonstrate capabilities that will be required to deliver this service.

    In the three-year timescale of UK Autodrive, the road-based passenger cars will continue to contain an occupant who can be responsible for the vehicle’s safe operation. Towards the end of the programme, we envisage that the pod vehicles will be able to travel around without occupants. A safety controller will continue to monitor the pods remotely.

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    What technology do the vehicles rely on? What happens if there isn’t enough GPS signal strength?

    The electric-powered pod vehicles operating in pedestrianised areas of Milton Keynes will be equipped with a wide range of sensors, including stereo cameras, LIDAR (laser-scanners) and ultrasonic obstacle detectors – as well as the computers required to process the incoming information and steer the pods. The M1 vehicles will also employ a range of sensor, communication and positioning technologies. GPS and other space-based satellite navigation systems are not currently accurate or reliable enough to be used as primary sources of navigation data for automated transport systems. Satellite navigation systems will therefore only be used, if at all, for non-essential applications.

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    Will the vehicles be used on public roads?

    The M1 vehicles will travel on public roads under controlled conditions for limited time periods in a demonstration environment. It is envisaged that these roads will initially be closed off to public traffic on the trial days, although members of the public will be able to watch the trials from secure vantage points. Based on the results of these initial trials, it may be possible to conduct additional trial days in which the M1 vehicles travel on open roads alongside regular cars driven by the public. Trained operators will always be at the wheel ready to take control of the cars if needed. The low-speed pods are designed to operate in pedestrianised areas and will not therefore operate on the highway, other than when crossing the road.

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    Which roads will be used?

    The precise roads and footpaths to be used will be determined following discussions with Milton Keynes Council and Coventry City Council and communicated to the public well in advance of the trial days. The roads selected will provide a mix of grid-based streets (in Milton Keynes) and more traditional urban road layouts (in both cities). The roads and road layouts will be selected to publically demonstrate the capabilities of the vehicles within the project.

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    How are you ensuring public safety?

    All of the vehicles being used in the UK Autodrive programme will have been rigorously tested before being introduced onto public roads and footpaths. Robust safety cases are also being developed and refined as integral parts of the programme. In addition, there will be a trained operator at the wheel of all the road-based M1 cars for the duration of the autonomous vehicle trials – ready to take control of the vehicle if necessary. Trained operators will also monitor the pavement-based pods.

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    How are you involving the public?

    As well as inviting members of the public to observe some of the trial days, we will be holding regular information events in Milton Keynes and Coventry as well as publishing announcements and key findings from the programme on the UK Autodrive website. In the programme’s later stages, it is planned that selected members of the public will be able to take part in the trials of the pavement-based pods. In addition, we will be running a series of surveys, both in the host cities and around the world, to monitor changes in public opinion towards self-driving vehicles.

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    How fast will the vehicles travel?

    The pavement-based pods will have a maximum capable speed of 24kmh (15mph) but will be further limited electronically depending upon the environment they are travelling in (for example, moving more slowly in congested areas). The M1 cars will have an operator at the wheel throughout the duration of the programme and will drive within the regular speed limits of the roads being used for the trials.

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    What are the main 'milestones' for the project and what information will be made public?

    The UK Autodrive programme got underway in November 2015 and is set to run for three years. There will be several major milestones throughout the project, including the start of the vehicle trials – currently scheduled for autumn 2016, following completion of the preparation, safety and development work. In the last year of the programme, autonomous cars and pods will become a regular sight on the streets and pavements of Coventry and Milton Keynes.

    Key information and findings from the UK Autodrive programme will be made readily available to the public, both via the media and directly on the UK Autodrive website. In addition, we are planning to hold regular stakeholder workshops in the two host cities as well as distributing a free-subscription online newsletter. UK Autodrive representatives will also be attending and speaking at major conferences and events on connected and autonomous vehicles and related topics.

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    What is the current status of autonomous vehicles, and how does the UK compare to other countries working on this technology?

    There are already many examples around the world of vehicles that have some element of ‘self-driving’ capability, including cars that are now on general sale with self-parking or adaptive cruise control functions. Several companies around the world are also developing vehicles that can operate in a highly automated state in certain relatively straightforward conditions – for example when moving in one-way traffic along a highway. The ultimate goal is to produce vehicles that can handle the complexity of full end-to-end journeys, including busy urban settings and remote rural roads.

    UK Autodrive is one of three projects currently being co-funded by the UK government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, with the aim of trialling and demonstrating the current capabilities of connected and autonomous vehicle technology, and assessing the requirements for further development. It is difficult to compare the advances being made in different countries, due to the often confidential nature of the research being undertaken, but the UK is clearly benefitting from strong industry and government support. As well as launching the “Introducing driverless cars to UK roads” competition, the government announced in 2015 that it would be investing £100m (with industry providing another £100m) into automated vehicle technology and the systems required to implement and adopt this technology. The Department for Transport also gave the legal green light for self-driving vehicle trials in February 2015, when it confirmed that no new legislation was required for these to go ahead.

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    What are the main benefits that self-driving vehicles will deliver?

    The long-term benefits of automated transport systems are expected to be significant. Increased safety is one of the main factors, since human error is estimated to be responsible for more than 90% of today’s road accidents. Fully automated systems are also predicted to radically reduce the number of cars on the roads and produce cars that drive much more efficiently, leading to benefits for the environment as well as freeing up space currently used for parking. Once cars are able to drive without any human intervention at all, there will also be significant time savings as people are freed up from their hours currently spent at the wheel. Fully automated vehicles would also be accessible by people who cannot currently drive, for example due to age or disability.

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    What are the main barriers to making automated vehicles a reality?

    There are still challenges to overcome in terms of technology and reliability, particularly when it comes to creating fully automated vehicles that can carry out complete door-to-door journeys in all driving scenarios. Even when the technology is deemed ready, there may still be potential legal hurdles as well as questions over insurance liability, cyber-security and public acceptance. All of these issues are being looked at as part of the UK Autodrive programme.

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    Will self-driving vehicles ever be 100% safe?

    It is difficult to imagine a mass transportation system that can ever be 100% safe. Even with the superfast reactions of a computer, fully automated vehicles will still be constrained by the laws of physics when it comes to factors such as stopping distance. Nevertheless, automated vehicles should be capable of achieving much higher safety levels than conventional cars, due to their much faster reaction times and by removing the human errors that currently play a part in the vast majority of road traffic accidents.

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    What about people hacking into the control systems?

    Safe and reliable control systems are essential to the success of self-driving vehicles and any automated system will need to be designed to minimise the risk of unlawful access to essential controls. Within UK Autodrive, cyber-security is a significant part of both vehicle and infrastructure systems development. In common with many other modern systems, autonomous car security systems will need to evolve to deal with newly identified threats.

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    Who will be responsible if a self-driving vehicle is involved in an accident? How will the insurance industry deal with autonomous cars?

    Several major players in the insurance industry have already identified automated vehicles as a potential disruptor for the conventional vehicle insurance market with many anticipating that fully automated vehicles would be subject to product liability insurance (potentially borne by either a vehicle manufacturer, software design firm or a combination of both) rather than drivers requiring personal insurance policies. In the event of an accident, an automated vehicle’s on-board logging equipment is also likely to make liability questions more straightforward than they are currently. Within UK Autodrive, AXA and Gowling WLG will be producing a series of white papers on societal and legal issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, including the aspects relating to privacy, cyber-security, liability and legislation.

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    What effect will automated vehicles have on the economy? Won't they lead to job losses?

    As with the insurance sector, the arrival of fully automated vehicles is expected to have a disruptive effect on several industries and professions – including car manufacturers and professional drivers – but the scale of the impact will depend greatly on the extent and speed at which the technology is rolled out. Recent studies have also pointed out that the move towards fully automated vehicles is expected to create many additional jobs in several sectors either directly or indirectly related to this new technology.

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    How will self-driving vehicles benefit disabled people?

    Once we get to the stage where vehicles are fully automated (without the need for any human driver), the benefits for disabled users should be massive. Those who cannot currently drive at all (including the blind and visually impaired) will be able to go wherever they want without having to rely on existing forms of public transport, taxis or lifts from friends and family, while those who currently rely on adapted vehicles will, in future, be able to use the same automated cars as everybody else. As well as disabled people, self-driving cars could be used by the elderly and anyone else who is currently unable or unwilling to drive.

    The pavement-based pod vehicles being used for UK Autodrive are being designed to allow wheelchair access, and will also include features to assist people with visual impairments.

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  • How will the footpath-based pods deal with blind pedestrians and wheelchair users?

    The pods being trialled in Milton Keynes will use their sensors to move out of the way of pedestrians or come to a gentle stop if their way is blocked. The pods have also been designed to emit a humming noise to alert pedestrians that they are coming.

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    How will self-driving cars be integrated into conventional road traffic? Will they share road space with normal driven vehicles?

    Conventional cars are expected to remain on public roads for decades to come, meaning that automated vehicles will have to share road-space with human drivers for the foreseeable future. It is possible that vehicles could be segregated – for example, having separate roads or lanes for self-driving vehicles – but creating specific infrastructure could prove costly and even unfeasible in countries where space is already at a premium. Ideally therefore, automated vehicles will be able to operate in conventional road traffic alongside regular human drivers.

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    What effect will automated cars have on congestion and the environment?

    The effect on congestion will depend a great deal on the speed at which fully automated vehicles enter the mainstream and the business models that accompany them. If people continue to want their own individual vehicle, the impact of self-driving vehicles will not be as dramatic as the scenario in which people can call up automated transport as and when they need it. UK Autodrive will carry out research to further investigate the possible effects on congestion, but one study carried out by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, using transport data provided by Singapore, suggested that the Southeast Asian state could reduce the number of cars on its streets by a third by adopting automated vehicle technology. A 2015 OECD report based on car usage in Lisbon suggested that a city-wide self-driving taxi service combined with high capacity public transport could reduce the number of cars on the roads by anything up to 90%. As well as leading to a reduction in the total number of cars, automated vehicles are expected to drive more efficiently and are also increasingly likely to be fitted with electric motors (due to their ability to dock and recharge themselves in between pick-ups), all of which should combine to lessen the amount of harmful emissions released into the environment.

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  • Will I be able to use a driverless car to get home if I have been out drinking?

    For the foreseeable future, “driverless” cars will still require the presence of a human passenger who is capable of taking back control of the vehicle if necessary. In the longer term, it is hoped that fully automated vehicles will be able to operate without any human assistance – potentially benefiting disabled users, those who are too young or too old to drive, and also those who find themselves over the drink-driving limit…

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    What about people who enjoy driving? Will human drivers eventually be banned?

    There are no signs of humans being banned from driving anytime in the foreseeable future. In fact, the most immediate scenarios for automated driving are on single-direction highways and in traffic jams – when the driving experience is usually at its least enjoyable – leaving drivers free to still enjoy the pleasures of an open road. As we move towards fully automated systems, people are likely to be given the choice as to when they want to drive, and when they wish to let the car take the strain.

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    When can I buy one?

    Cars are already available with increasing levels of automation, even if they only offer options such as parking assistance or adaptive cruise control. Putting an exact date on the arrival of highly- or fully-automated vehicles is difficult due to a number of remaining issues including technological readiness, legal frameworks, insurance, security and public acceptance. It also remains to be seen whether fully-automated vehicles will be “bought” by individuals or rather used on a book-when-needed basis.

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    Wouldn't it be better to improve the public transport system (buses, trains etc.)?

    As mentioned elsewhere in these FAQs, self-driving vehicles should help to reduce our reliance on individually owned cars and should be seen as complementary to public transport – or even blurring the lines between private and public transport. Buses and trains will continue to be useful on popular routes and may themselves also operate increasingly without drivers. A truly efficient automated transport system would eventually link up bus and train networks with individual cars and pods – allowing people to move effortlessly wherever they want to go and regardless of the types of vehicle that get them there.

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