Ultra Pod driverless shuttles to be trialed in London this summer

The trial will make use of vehicles adapted from the Ultra Pod shuttles currently in use at Heathrow Airport(Credit: Heathrow Enterprises)

Later this year, a fleet of driverless vehicles will take to the streets of the London borough of Greenwich. An all-British endeavour, the project is a joint venture between Heathrow Enterprises, Oxbotica and Westfield Sportscars. The vehicles themselves will be developed from an existing fleet of automated pods used for short journeys across Heathrow Airport, which were first brought into operation almost five years ago.

The fully-automated pods, known as Ultra Pods, have been used at Heathrow Airport for almost five years, carrying some 1.5 million passengers across the facility and eliminating the need for 70,000 bus journeys every year. The electric shuttles have had a big impact on the airport's carbon footprint, eliminating around 100 tonnes (110 tons) of annual CO2 emissions.

Unlike those vehicles, the pods that will hit the streets of London won't require tracks to guide them, instead moving along normal roads with other traffic. Their design and manufacture will be handled by London-based Westfield Sportscars, which will also conduct testing prior to the launch of the project. Heathrow Enterprises will work together with Oxbotica on software, mapping, and the all-important perception and trajectory planning systems.

A cloud-based management system will also be put in place, with the goal of allowing the shuttles to operate in harmony, as part of synchronized, fully-automated system. Users will be able to book pods through a smartphone app.

The trial is set to kick off this summer, forming part of the GATEway project, the key goal of which is to investigate public acceptance of automated shuttle services. The wider project will also include trials of automated valet parking and delivery services.

A similar vehicle, the EZ10, is expected to hit the roads of Singapore and California later this year.

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