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Government backs £17.4m self-driving vehicle trial in Cambridge





A £17.4 million trial of self-driving vehicles in Cambridge has been announced by the government today (Wednesday).

Autonomous vehicle testing on the West Cambridge site in 2021. These are not the vehicles will not be used in the trial announced today (February 1, 2023). Picture: Keith Heppell
Autonomous vehicle testing on the West Cambridge site in 2021. These are not the vehicles will not be used in the trial announced today (February 1, 2023). Picture: Keith Heppell

The Greater Cambridge Partnership has been awarded £8.7 million by government, matched by industry, to pilot on-demand self-driving vehicles.

Up to 13 electric vehicles will provide passenger services that integrate with existing transport services within Cambridge across two sites: Cambridge University’s West Cambridge campus and the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

Cllr Elisa Meschini, chair of the GCP’s executive board, said: “Cambridge is renowned as a place of innovation, where the technology of the future is discovered and realised to benefit the world. This is why it is incredibly exciting to be part of today’s announcement to help develop a new public transport system.

“In the last two years we have trialled autonomous vehicles and now these innovative self-driving vehicles are the next step to demonstrate how on-demand services will be part of the future for Greater Cambridge.

“People have told us how important better and more reliable public transport is, and these new autonomous vehicles, which will be seen next year, could help to transform the way thousands of people travel in and around Greater Cambridge every day to help cut congestion and give people another alternative to travelling by car.”

In June 2021, the GCP, Smart Cambridge and engineering firm Aurrigo looked at how autonomous technology could be used on the public transport network.

Self-driving shuttles operated from Madingley Park & Ride taking passengers on fully autonomous journeys around the University of Cambridge’s West of Cambridge site, with three shuttles completing 106 journeys.

The Cambridge Project Connector consortium partners at the CCAV Deployment Competition Announcement event in Sunderland, January 2023 (62186069)
The Cambridge Project Connector consortium partners at the CCAV Deployment Competition Announcement event in Sunderland, January 2023 (62186069)

Business secretary Grant Shapps said: “In just a few years’ time, the business of self-driving vehicles could add tens of billions to our economy and create tens of thousands of jobs across the UK. This is a massive opportunity to drive forward our priority to grow the economy, which we are determined to seize.

“The support we are providing today will help our transport and technology pioneers steal a march on the global competition, by turning their bright ideas into market-ready products sooner than anyone else.”

The Project Cambridge Connector is one of seven successful projects from around the UK to gain funding from the government.

The grants, part of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles Connected and Automated Mobility programme, will help British companies seize early opportunities to develop experimental projects into offerings ready for the market.

Transport secretary Mark Harper said: “Self-driving vehicles including buses will positively transform people’s everyday lives – making it easier to get around, access vital services and improve regional connectivity.

“We’re supporting and investing in the safe rollout of this incredible technology to help maximise its full potential, while also creating skilled jobs and boosting growth in this important sector.”

The GCP will be working in partnership with Cambridgeshire County Council, Cambridge City Council, South Cambridgeshire District Council and the University of Cambridge.

Professor Ian Leslie, senior adviser to the vice-chancellor with special responsibility for environmental sustainability at the University of Cambridge, said: “Innovation that benefits society is at the heart of the University’s mission, and we are delighted to support the next phase of fully autonomous vehicle trials at the West Cambridge Innovation District. We believe shuttles could provide a real benefit for staff, students and visitors, and make journey times quicker between our sites and around our sites.

“By making sustainable travel easier, we hope more people will move away from using private vehicles in Cambridge, contributing towards Cambridge’s vision for the future.”

Project partners include: dRisk, Stagecoach East, IPG Automotive UK, Conigital Ltd and Gamma Energy as well as the Greater Cambridge Partnership.

Carla Stockton-Jones, UK Managing Director of Stagecoach, said: “We’re very proud to be pioneers of this technology with our plans to roll out the UK’s first full-sized autonomous bus service in Scotland in the spring.

“The government funding announced today means that we can build further on this achievement by trialling exciting new autonomous projects with our partners in Cambridge and Sunderland, and at the same time advancing the technology as we extend our Scottish bus trial to cover a longer route.

Autonomous vehicle testing on the West Cambridge site in 2021. These are not the vehicles that will not be used in the trial announced today (February 1, 2023). Picture: Keith Heppell
Autonomous vehicle testing on the West Cambridge site in 2021. These are not the vehicles that will not be used in the trial announced today (February 1, 2023). Picture: Keith Heppell

“We look forward to working with our partners across the country to roll out these new projects which will help ensure that the UK remains firmly on the map for its advancements in autonomous technology.”

Almost £600,000 is also being awarded for feasibility studies, looking into how self-driving technology could improve public transport in four parts of the UK.

These projects will look into potential routes where automated vehicles could operate exclusively from other traffic, to relieve congestion on the A414 through Hertfordshire and Essex, parts of Eastern Cambridge, Birmingham and Solihull, and Milton Keynes.

Innovate UK executive director for Net Zero, Mike Biddle, said: “The Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) sector is of crucial importance to the UK, with the potential to deliver safer, cleaner and more efficient transport systems across a wide range of settings.

“This latest, multi-year round of government’s Commercialising CAM funds builds on the success of previous collaborative R&D programme, stimulating innovation to ensure the UK is at the forefront of the transition towards the commercialisation of self-driving services.”

Self-driving vehicles could revolutionise public transport and passenger travel, especially for those who do not drive, better connect rural communities and reduce road collisions caused by human error. Forecasts predict that by 2035, 40 per cent of new car sales in the country will have self-driving capabilities, with a total market value for connected and automated mobility worth £41.7 billion to the UK.

This could create nearly 40,000 skilled jobs in connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technology.

The government is also committed to introducing legislation that will enable the safe and timely rollout of self-driving vehicles on UK roads.

Under a proposed ‘safety ambition’ for self-driving vehicles to be equivalent in safety to a competent and careful human driver, vehicles will need to meet certain standards to be allowed to ‘self-drive’ on the roads throughout the lifetime of the vehicle. Organisations overseeing self-driving vehicles could face sanctions if standards are not maintained.



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