The first autonomous shuttles will take to the roads from today (May 27), as part of ground-breaking trials in Cambridge.
The autonomous bus trial, which was delayed by two years due to the pandemic, will be open for passenger journeys as it tests the future of public transport.
The shuttles will run on the roads around the University of Cambridge’s West Cambridge campus alongside other vehicles, but there will be only three trial vehicles, down from the originally planned six.
The journey around the campus takes 20 minutes on the 20mph and fully electric vehicles.
Transport minister Rachel Maclean was among the first passengers on board the shuttle bus on Thursday, May 27, as it embarked on a fully autonomous journey around the university campus.
She said: “Self-driving vehicles present a number of opportunities for the UK from providing safer, greener and more reliable transport services to creating tens of thousands of well-paid and skilled jobs across the nation.
“This project is hugely exciting and is an example of how self-driving vehicles could make it easier for people to travel on the UK’s future public transport network.”
The shuttles are fitted with sensors, laser scanners, and cameras which build a map of the environment.
Safety operators are onboard the vehicle during the trials and are able to take control of the vehicle immediately if required.
The campus was chosen by the project team – the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP), Smart Cambridge, and engineering firm Aurrigo – because the site infrastructure means they can be tested without alterations to the vehicles or infrastructure.
The trials will support research into potential driverless shuttle services to link the city’s other research campuses with the rail stations and Park & Ride sites, and further explore how smart technology could be used to cut congestion and improve public transport.
Claire Ruskin, director of Cambridge Network and the business representative on the GCP executive board, said: “It is very exciting to see these vehicles working on real roads here as another first in Cambridge.
“These shuttles can be used on demand all day and night, every day of the year – which is unaffordable with our existing public transport.
“They are flexible and make good use of resources without needing much infrastructure.
“As employment around Cambridge is 24/7 for many organisations – including our hospitals, emergency services, and many of our labs – we have been anticipating this new technology to see how real operation will help people get around.
“This trial is part of wider plans by the Greater Cambridge Partnership to help the area work sustainably as it continues to deliver world-leading innovation for the UK.”
Further passenger trials are planned during June with select passengers to be invited onboard the 10-seater shuttle.
Dr Nik Johnson, mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, said: “This trial is a great example of the type of innovative, clean transport solution that I look forward to working closely with the GCP on
He added: “I look forward to seeing how this trial develops and what learnings we can take forward for the delivery of a modern, timely, and relevant transport solution for the rest of Greater Cambridgeshire.”
The GCP is responsible for the area’s £500 million city deal with the government to support sustainable growth for the country by investing in public transport infrastructure, skills, and housing.
The GCP and Smart Cambridge secured government funding from the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), part of Innovate UK, in 2018 to launch the project.