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Success for self-driving shuttles in Cambridge trial

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More than 300 passengers travelled just over 1,000 kilometres in ground-breaking autonomous vehicle trials held in Cambridge.

Autonomous vehicle testing on the West Cambridge site . Picture: Keith Heppell
Autonomous vehicle testing on the West Cambridge site . Picture: Keith Heppell

The Aurrigo self-driving shuttles operated from Madingley Park & Ride taking passengers on fully autonomous journeys around the University of Cambridge’s West of Cambridge site throughout June.

The project was led by the Greater Cambridge Partnership, Smart Cambridge and engineering firm Aurrigo to look at how autonomous technology can be used on the public transport network. Three shuttles took part and completed 106 journeys.

Cllr Neil Gough, chair of the GCP’s executive board, said: “We’re looking for innovative, future-proof transport solutions and this technology could prove to be a vital component in the GCP’s high-quality public transport routes and the wider transport network in the future.

“This would help to transform the way thousands of people travel in and around Greater Cambridge every day to help cut congestion, improve air quality and give people a real alternative to travelling by car.”

The GCP said more than 97 per cent of those who took part who filled out a survey afterwards said they would get on one again “without hesitation”.

Cambridge Autonomous Shuttle trial results graphic
Cambridge Autonomous Shuttle trial results graphic

This was the first time custom-built autonomous vehicles have shared the road with other traffic in the UK while carrying passengers. Each shuttle was crewed by two on-board safety operators, who were able to regain manual control of the vehicle immediately at any time if required. The fully electric vehicles operate at a maximum of 20mph and have a range of 100 miles.

They are kitted out with five CCTV cameras inside and outside the vehicle and have three hazard perception cameras.

The project could pave the way for a range of autonomous services to provide on-demand public transport for workers at large employment sites – such as the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and West Cambridge – and potentially for people enjoying an evening in the city in the future.

David Keene, chief executive officer of Coventry-based Aurrigo, said: “Cambridge has been the ideal location to move our autonomous technology forward and we have gained valuable experience of testing our driverless shuttles in a real-world setting, mixing with live traffic.

“This was the first time a trial of this nature was completed and was only possible due to the foresight and collaboration of partners Greater Cambridge Partnership and Smart Cambridge. Together, we have learned so much that we can use to inform future developments in autonomous vehicles and the way the public interact with them.”

The GCP and Smart Cambridge secured government funding from the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, part of Innovate UK, in 2018 to launch the project.

It followed pioneering feasibility studies commissioned and funded by the GCP, working with the University of Cambridge.

As part of the project consortium, Aurrigo, the autonomous vehicle division of RDM Group, began development of autonomous shuttles for use in Cambridge following trials of a four-seater pod. The team mapped a test route from the Madingley Road Park & Ride site to and around the West Cambridge campus with one vehicle late last year, but had to pause work during Covid-19 lockdowns. A second shuttle arrived on May 7 to map the route for the trial journeys.

The GCP is tasked with delivering the area’s £500m ‘City Deal’ with government to support sustainable growth for the county by investing in public transport infrastructure, skills, and housing.

Read more:

Self-driving shuttles carry passengers in Cambridge road trials

The three concepts unveiled for Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro in full

Aurrigo Autonomous Shuttle trials begin in Cambridge

Trials of autonomous vehicles proposed for University of Cambridge’s West Cambridge

Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro has cost almost £10m so far

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