A self-driving shuttle will ferry around 100 people in Greenwich, London along a short route on a public cycle and pedestrian path over the next three weeks, in a trial using Oxbotica’s driverless vehicle technology. The goal, according to Oxbotica, is to show average people that they can safely share space with autonomous cars, helping dissuade any perception of threat and generally improve comfort levels ahead of a planned wider launch with regular service available tot he public.
Oxbotica already kicked off self-driving car trials on UK streets in Milton Keynes late last year. The shuttle it’s using for this test is a very different vehicle, with room for four passengers and a much slower top speed, which suits its route along the Olympian Way path near O2 arena. Its design is focused on providing safe transport in an environment where it has to contend regularly with pedestrians crossing its path, and it’s 328 foot forward vision system is designed to help it come to a steady, comfortable stop whenever it sees something interrupting its path.
Part of Oxbotica’s goal with this limited trial is also to find out how passengers onboard the shuttle react to the experience of being transported by a computer-driver system. That could help inform design aspects of the rider experience, including driving practices and interior design. Ultimately, the goal is to begin a more comprehensive trial by 2019 in Greenwich, with the aim of rolling it out beyond to other locales further down the road.
Shuttles are low-hanging fruit for autonomous vehicle tech: routes are regular and relatively predictable, and speed isn’t necessarily a high-value target. This trial has interesting implications in terms of how closely it shares space with passengers and cyclists, a key area of concern for autonomous tech overall.