Greenwich opens autonomous driving trials up to the public

The trial will let members of the public behind the wheel of driverless pods

As the world's automakers push to have their self-driving cars ready for widespread adoption, trials are popping up everywhere from China to the UK. Greenwich is the latest area to open itself up to self-driving car trials, but is letting the general public get in on the act in an attempt to find out how they feel about ceding control to a car.

Being conducted at the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab @ Greenwich, the autonomous tests are being led by the United Kingdom's Transport Research Laboratory. Rather than limiting the trial to scientists and engineers, members of the general public will be invited to ride in driverless pods and give feedback on the experience.

This feedback will form part of a wider study, intended to gain an understanding of how people think the move towards autonomy will impact the local area, both through a public workshop and an online "sentiment-mapping tool."

"The move to automated vehicles is probably the most significant change in transport since the transition from horse drawn carriages to motorized vehicles," says Professor Nick Reed, director at the UK TRL and Technical Lead of the GATEway project. "Testing these vehicles in a living environment, like the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab, takes the concept from fiction to reality. 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 to how much they like it, trust it and could accept it as a service in the city."

The cars are based on the Ultra Pods that have been ferrying passengers around Heathrow since 2011, but do away with the tracks. Instead, the vehicles will first be manually driven around their intended route and then, once said route is mapped out, they will be able to navigate autonomously around the environment using lasers, sensors, cameras and software. There will also be an operator on board to take the wheel in the case of an emergency.

Greenwich isn't the only area to be opening itself up for self-driving testing. Singaporean public transport company SMRT has recently teamed up with a sustainable mobility firm to roll out driverless pods, while Volvo is working with a number of Chinese cities to start the country's "most advanced autonomous driving experiment."

The latest trials are a part of the £8 million (US$11,495,000) Greenwich Automated Transport Environment project (GATEway).

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