Services to use automated vehicles ‘within five years’

Director of organisation leading GATEway project says Greenwich project is paving the way to commercial services

Commercial services using automated vehicles in public transport are likely to become available within the next five years, according to the academy director of the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL).

GATEway car Nick Reed told a smart cities round table at this week’s SAP Innovation Forum that trials of driverless vehicles in the Greenwich area of London, due to begin in the summer, will be a significant step towards the widespread use of the technology.

“This summer you will be able to ride on a fully automated vehicle in Greenwich,” he said. “The operation of fully automated vehicles offering commercial services within limited geographic constraints is not far off, and cities is where it’s going to happen first. That’s where there is the greatest need.

“Those will happen over the next two, three, four, five years.”

He said the trials, run as part of the GATEway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) project under TRL’s leadership, will be focused on ‘last mile’ mobility, connecting residential areas to transit hubs and commercial areas in ways that people feel less compelled to use their car, or even own a car.

“That kind of shared model is a trend that will change cities, away from private ownership of vehicles towards public transport; but at the same time making sure that we are satisfying the mobility needs of the broadest spectrum of the population,” he said.

Goods delivery

Reed added that other elements of the project are dealing with the use of automated vehicles for the movement of goods, and the use of drones for the delivery of small packages.

“Part of the project is about what do people like, what do they enjoy, what do they want from an automated transport system. It’s so when you introduce these in a commercial context they hit the ground running,” he said.

He added that the Government has supported the work with the creation two years ago of the Centre for Connected Autonomous Vehicles as a policy unit for national strategy in using the technology. Its work has involved the development of a regulatory framework for testing automated vehicles on roads.

There is now a need for work that begins in changing public attitudes towards transport so people will be ready to accept automated vehicles.

“The challenges are around having a realistic programme of trials that engages the public, the media and industry, and brings them on the journey towards a future of automated vehicles, so we can demonstrate real societal or commercial value,” he said.

Picture from TRL