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Driverless vehicles are being tested on the Cambridge guided busway

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Driverless vehicles on the busway
Driverless vehicles on the busway

The autonomous vehicle tests are paving the way for driverless buses.

Driverless vehicles on the busway
Driverless vehicles on the busway

RDM Group has started testing its PodZero driverless vehicle. The tests are part of feasibility studies ahead of a potential deployment of a number of 10-seater autonomous buses that would run between Trumpington Park & Ride and Cambridge railway station.

The aim is to provide up to 100 extra journeys per day on the route, which also serves the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and Addenbrooke’s.

The £250,000 test project is funded by Innovate UK and delivered in partnership with Connecting Cambridgeshire and the Smart Cambridge Programme. It’s hoped that it will provide a vital solution to one of the area’s transport issues.

Richard Fairchild, director of Autonomous Mobility Programmes at Coventry-based RDM Group, said: “The Trumpington to Cambridge guided busway represents an ideal route for the implementation of autonomous vehicles to meet real passenger demand.

“It is segregated from the highway allowing the pods to whizz up and down without traffic congestion slowing them, and also segregated from pedestrians and cyclists meaning it is a really safe route.

“Research has shown that there is demand for hundreds of journeys in the hours when the buses do not run. This is simply due to the cost and the pods can offer a cheaper-to-run solution.”

He said the service will not replace the existing buses, but complement it with a practical and effective solution during quieter times of the day.

He continued: “The technology in the PodZero is ideal for replicating the conditions an autonomous bus will run under and, the fact it could be quickly deployed, means we can deliver the data, information and experience required to make the fleet of larger, 10-seater autonomous buses on the busway a reality sooner rather than later.”

RDM Group will also look at developing vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) communications to enable platooning of shuttles along the guided busway, as well as handling real-time video feeds for safety, security and management of vehicles.

The feasibility study will deliver its findings in June next year and a £5m project to bring a fleet of 10-seater pods may begin soon after.

Cllr Francis Burkitt, chair of the Greater Cambridge Partnership, which supports the Smart Cambridge programme and commissioned the initial feasibility study by the University of Cambridge, said: “It’s exciting that testing of autonomous vehicles on the busway is now under way as part of our ongoing collaborative work to transform the way people travel into, out of and around the city.

“The busway already provides a ready-made link between the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, Trumpington Park & Ride, Cambridge railway station and the city centre. In future, autonomous shuttles could help to meet the demand for services in the evenings and at weekends when the buses are not running, giving more people the opportunity to travel sustainably on key routes into the city.”

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