Driverless cars could be trialled in Oxford by end of this year

Oxford company Oxbotica, backed by Oxford Country Council, plans to test autonomous vehicle technology on the streets of Oxford

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Oxbotica's prototype vehicle, Geni, testing autonomous capabilities along the Thames Path in Greenwich, London.

Driverless cars could be operating in Oxford city centre from as early as late 2017 onwards.

Oxbotica, a spin-out company from the University’s Robotics Institute, has just started to trial the vehicles in London and plans to continue the experiment in Oxford.

They are backed by Oxfordshire County Council and Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP), and are in the process of applying for government funding for the project.

Dr Graeme Smith, chief executive of Oxbotica, said: “We hope to see our vehicles running around in Oxford in not too long—we want to close some roads and run some tests towards the end of 2017.”

“Then we’d like to carry out trials in 2018. It would be a mixture of different things, including tests on the actual road network.”

“Oxford has similar traffic problems to lots of other places and there are lots of different scenarios to trial but we are equally interested in trying to help solve the issues here.”

Speaking exclusively to Cherwell in February, he said: “The advantages of these vehicles include that they are by and large electric, meaning less output pollution, and the energy can be generated away from the city itself, creating less urban pollution.

“Another advantage of autonomous vehicles is we are able to schedule where they are, where they go, what they do—such planning allows us to cut down on congestion as well.”

He claimed that the public are generally very accepting of driverless technology, giving the example of the now driverless Docklands Light Railway, which he claims had “no real negative feedback”.

In January, Cherwell reported on how driverless cars could be the future of transportation in the city, with Nigel Tipple, chief executive of OxLEP, commenting: “Students are, of course, among those living and working in Oxford who could benefit from this type of transport innovation; pods could bring cheaper, more efficient and economical travel, particularly around the city centre, and the introduction of such new technology would also mean we all benefit from living and working in a cleaner, greener, less congested city.”

Pembroke second-year Harry Griffiths commented: “Whilst driverless shuttle buses would provide a ‘green’ alternative for public transport in Oxford, and parallel systems such as the tram system in Sheffield (popular with students) have been successful, I believe 2018/19 is an ambitious target given the need for extensive testing phases, especially to address the obvious safety concerns with such technology.”

Eliza McHugh, a second-year chemist at Balliol, said: “As a student who cycles around the city, I think I’d feel much safer on the road with robots continuously learning and self-improving from every other automated car.

“I could trust it to actually follow the rules of the road and make decisions based on huge amounts of situations it’s been programmed to respond to.

“Whilst working for Oxford Sparks, an organisation which engages the public with the university’s scientific research, I had the opportunity to speak to Professor Paul Newman, head of the Oxford Mobile Robotic Groups (MRG). He stressed to me the importance of collective robotics and the importance of shared data.

“When humans learn to drive, they’re learning just by themselves. But for driverless cars, they will start with the benefit of every vehicle’s experience; every vehicle will be able to share every road marking and pedestrian.”

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