Back in July last year, the UK Government launched a £20 million competitive fund designed to facilitate the development of driverless vehicle technology in the UK, focusing on developing the infrastructure and communication technology needed to safely bring autonomous vehicles to market. Following on from an earlier £20 million investment into autonomous vehicle trails in several UK cities, money for the prize fund was part of a new £100 million set aside by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in heavily criticised UK Spring 2015 Budget, and was intended to place the UK at the forefront of autonomous vehicle research and development alongside Silicon Valley, California.
Today, just under six months since the prize fund was announced, the UK Government has announced it has chosen eight different projects which will share the £20 million in funding, ranging from building autonomous shuttles to help visually-impaired passengers get around unfamiliar areas through to fitting public highways with sophisticated sensor systems and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications equipment to facilitate the testing of connected and autonomous vehicles.
Each of the eight projects are being operated by individual consortiums made up of a mixture of private and public stakeholders ranging from automakers and tier-one parts suppliers through to local government agencies and academic institutions. Each project, while focused on the same end goal of accelerating the development and commercialization of autonomous vehicles, has its own special remit.
UK Connected Intelligent Transport Environment (UKCITE), the largest prize-fund recipient at £5.6 million, will focus on equipping 40 miles of urban roads, dual-carriageways and motorways with three established vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies as well as LTE-V, a brand-new vehicle-to-infrastructure protocol which relies on cellular data connections and can operate over a longer-range. Designed to examine how connected car and autonomous vehicle technologies can help reduce congestion, improve journey quality and journey time and provide entertainment and safety services through improved connectivity, consortium members include Visteon Engineering Services Limited, Jaguar Land Rover Ltd, Coventry City Council, Siemens PLC, Vodafone Group Services Ltd, Huawei Technologies (UK) Co Ltd, HORIBA MIRA Ltd, Coventry University, University of Warwick (WMG) and Highways England Company Ltd.
FLOURISH, a project based in Bristol and the south west of England, will focus not on the hardware needed to bring autonomous vehicles to market but the needs and expectations that vehicle operators and other road users will have towards autonomous and connected vehicles. Operating in both an urban and suburban environment, its stakeholders include everything from insurance companies like AXA UK plc through to Age UK, Airbus, and councils from South Gloucestershire and Bristol City.
Another project involving the participation of an insurance company is the MOVE-UK project. Focused in London, the project — which received £5.5 million of the total £20 million prize fund — will focus on accelerating the development and market readiness of autonomous driving systems. Its shareholders include Bosch, Jaguar Land Rover, the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory, The Floow, Direct Line Insurance and the Royal Borough of Greenwich.
“To successfully introduce autonomous cars, we actually need to focus more on the driver than ever before,” said Dr. Wolfgang Epple, Director of Research and Technology at Jaguar Land Rover in a separate press release accompanying the announcement of funding of this particular project. Understanding how drivers react to a range of very dynamic and random situations in the real world is essential if we want drivers to embrace autonomous cars in the future.”
Meanwhile, Paul Geddes, CEO of Direct Line Group, explained why an insurance company is so interested in autonomous vehicles. “As Britain’s leading personal motor insurer, Direct Line Group is delighted to be part of this unique consortium. We recognise the increasingly important role played by automated and driverless systems in improving road safety,” he said. ” We also understand that DLG and the wider UK Insurance industry have a key role in enabling the deployment and adoption of these technologies on UK roads.”
Don’t think however that the prize fund is only being spent on projects focusing on real-world testing however. One of the smaller projects — which is being called “Tools for Autonomous Logistics Operations and Management” — is being awarded £3.2 million to focus on computer models for autonomous drive systems. Working with transportation modellers and experts from the computer games industry, it seeks to develop new modeling systems that can help fleet operators ensure a positive return on their investment into connected and autonomous vehicles through better fleet management and routing.
Worth an estimated £900 billion per year annually by 2025, UK Business Secretary Sajid Javid said in an official UK government statement that the work being funded will strengthen the UK’s place in the world of intelligent mobility.
“Our cars of the future will be equipped with the technologies that will make getting from A to B safer, faster, and cleaner. They will alert drivers of accidents ahead and be able to receive information from their surroundings about hazards, increasing the safety of drivers, passengers and pedestrians,” he said. “Britain is a world-leader in research and development in such innovative technologies which improve lives and create opportunity for all. That is why this government has protected the £6 billion science budget and is providing up to £20 million for these projects.”
Here at Transport Evolved, we’re glad to see such investments being made into autonomous vehicle research by governments around the world. But while the investment will certainly help the development of self-driving cars, we note that major automakers already known for their autonomous vehicle projects — including Tesla Motors, Nissan, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, the Volkswagen Group and GM — are strangely absent from any of the projects listed.
And while there’s no requirement for any of those companies to be involved, there’s a risk — as always with government-funded projects — that commercial readiness is achieved not because of but in spite of the efforts being funded today. In a country where there’s something of a funding crisis in other parts of the budget, that’s a massive risk to be taking.
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