Driverless pods are headed to the London borough of Greenwich, and the public is invited to sit inside and experience the technology first hand. The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) opened sign-ups today for the first public trials, which will take place inside its UK Smart Mobility Living Lab -- a test area that covers the entire borough. The exact routes are still being finalised, but the focus will be around the Greenwich peninsula, in places where the pods are likely to encounter cyclists and pedestrians. We don't know when the trials will start, however, beyond "later this year."
The project is using repurposed Ultra Pods, which are already in operation at London's Heathrow Airport. There, the electric four-wheelers run on tracks, shuttling passengers in relative safety. To help make them road-ready, TRL has teamed up with Westfield Sportscars, a classic car builder based in the West Midlands, and Oxbotica, a research-based offshoot from Oxford University's Mobile Robotics Group. The group's mission is to see how the public reacts to driverless vehicles, especially in urban environments where there are plenty of motorists and pedestrians.
Successful applicants will be asked to give some feedback about their driverless adventure. Some of these will take the form of recorded interviews both before and after the trip. "It gives the public a chance to experience what it's like to ride in an automated vehicle and to make their own mind up as how much they like it, trust it and could accept it as a service in the city," Nick Reed, Director at TRL said. The public can also sign up for workshops, scheduled for next month, which will include debates and "creative activities" developed by the Royal College of Art.
The project is one of many the UK government is funding to develop driverless car technology. Most of them are research based, however, or restricted to private land. TRL says its Greenwich trials will be the first "public driverless vehicle trials" in the UK -- an important milestone, both for the technology and the government's attempt to make Britain a self-driving research hub. Politicians are no doubt hoping that such a gesture will also encourage Google to bring its driverless cars across the pond.