A government-backed project to accelerate the development of self-driving commercial vehicles will begin public trials in Birmingham this week.
The test will be the second of three such trials by Project Endeavour and follows the success of the first test in Oxford, during which six autonomous (Level 4) Ford Mondeos tackled a nine-mile round-trip route last October.
Just four self-driving Mondeos will be introduced in Birmingham. As in Oxford, the cars will be fitted with lidar, radar and stereo cameras and autonomy software provided by autonomous vehicles firm Oxbotica.
However, the route is slightly shorter, spanning a five-mile area around Birmingham’s Lea Hall station, between Birmingham International Airport and the city centre.
The Mondeos will run the route multiple times a day over the next six months. They will drive at all times of day and night to experience a range of traffic – “from morning commutes to school runs, in a range of weather conditions,” a spokesperson for the initiative said.
Although the cars will be completely self-driven, a professionally trained safety driver will be in the driver’s seat at all times during the trial, capable of resuming control if necessary.
The final of Project Endeavour's three trials will take place in Greenwich, London in August, where two routes are planned.
The trials are intended to “demonstrate autonomous driving in a variety of urban and city environments and will develop engagement models with local authorities and communities to help them prepare for the future launch of autonomous vehicle services,” according to Project Endeavour.
Launched in September 2019, Project Endeavour is a consortium between autonomous software company Oxbotica, city technology firm DG Cities and transport simulation company Immense, as well as recently added partners the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), the British Standards Institution (BSI) and Birmingham City Council.
Senior vice president of Oxbotica and Project Endeavour director Dr Graeme Smith said: “Project Endeavour is a one-of-a-kind research project that is allowing us to learn about the challenges of deploying autonomous vehicles in multiple cities across the UK – a key part of being able to deploy services safely and at scale.
“This stage of the mobility project is a new step for us, as Birmingham hosts our fleet of autonomous vehicles for the first time in real-life environments, and there has been a huge amount of enthusiasm from the local authority in the UK’s second largest city ahead of the deployment.”