Lords get latest on UK trials

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UK Autodrive travelled to the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday, as the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee continued its inquiry into the future uses of connected and autonomous vehicles.

Brian Matthews, Head of Transport Innovation at Milton Keynes Council, provided the committee members with an update on the UK Autodrive project, as well as answering their questions on the likely shape of future trials.

Mr Matthews was joined at Tuesday’s evidence session by representatives from the other major Connected & Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) trials currently underway in the UK, with Professor Nick Reed and Dr John McCarthy answering questions on behalf of the GATEway and Venturer projects respectively.

After explaining that UK Autodrive was set to examine public attitudes and acceptance of CAV technology as much as develop the technology itself, Mr Matthews said that Milton Keynes Council was particularly interested in using the project to reduce the fast-growing town’s reliance on cars.

While agreeing with one committee member’s observation that the trials are still in the early days, he added that initial results from all three major trials were already being fed back to the government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (C-CAV) with the aim of “setting the bar even higher for the next level of increasingly complex and ambitious trials”.


A good deal of Tuesday’s session focused on public attitudes towards autonomous vehicles, although Professor Reed warned against paying too much attention to widely divergent opinion polls at a time when most people have yet to experience the technology.

Responding to the same point, Dr McCarthy said that Venturer’s initial investigations into these behavioural aspects had revealed “a bit of fear, a bit of a sense of novelty and a bit of [people asking] ‘what can I get out of this?’”

When pressed by the committee about the likely timeframe for the widespread adoption of fully autonomous vehicles, the three project representatives agreed that such predictions were very hard to make –  with Professor Reed even joking that there were a dozen partners in his project, “and everyone of them has a different answer to that question!”

All were in agreement, however, that Level 4 automation (defined by Professor Reed as vehicles carrying out the “complete driving task, but only in certain boundary conditions”, such as within pre-mapped areas, could be widespread within five to ten years. Full Level 5 automation (where vehicles can freely travel on all roads and in all circumstances) was described as being “much more challenging and sometime beyond” the ten-year mark.

Tuesday’s oral evidence session was the second in a series of weekly hearings being held by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, and following on from the inquiry’s call for written evidence earlier this year.

The committee is due to publish its findings and recommendations by February of next year.