A COVENTRY company claimed another UK technology milestone this week when trials of autonomous buses it was instrumental in began in Cambridge.
Aurrigo is an expert in ‘first and last mile’ transport solutions and became the first firm in the country to undertake testing of the a custom-made autonomous vehicle capable of carrying passengers on a main road surrounded by other traffic, including cars, lorries, vans, bikes and pedestrians.
The three Auto-Shuttles, able to seat 10 people outside of social distancing restrictions, took passengers from the Madingley Road Park and Ride site to and around the University of Cambridge’s West Campus.
The trial is part of an Innovate UK and Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV)-backed project, led by Aurrigo with Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) and Smart Cambridge – all working together to explore how autonomous technology could be used on the public transport network.
It is anticipated passengers recruited for the project will be able to use an Aurrigo App that will allow them to be picked-up at a number of locations across the two-mile route.
Aurrigo’s chief executive officer David Keene said: “This is another major milestone in the journey towards making autonomous vehicles a reality on our roads.
“We’ve completed successful trials in city centres, in retirement complexes and at major golf tournaments, but this is the first time these vehicles will be sharing the route with everyday traffic.
“The shuttles, which have been designed and manufactured at our Advanced Engineering Centre in Coventry, will operate the 20-minute journey around the West Cambridge route.
“They will run autonomously for the majority of the route using our in-house developed Auto-Stack™ driving software and the latest LIDAR and camera technology to identify potential hazards as they move around.”
He added it would provide new transport solutions for city centres, shopping and care facilities, airports and heritage sites.
The Aurrigo Auto-Shuttle™ – the world’s first conventionally-driven electric and autonomous purpose-built vehicle – has a range of 120 miles, a lightweight composite frame powered by a 22kW electric motor.
The striking external design is replicated inside, creating a safe environment for up to 10 people to sit once Covid-19 social distancing is relaxed. This includes space for wheelchair users that can access the vehicle via an automatically deployed ramp.
Trials in Cambridge had been halted by the pandemic, but with mapping now complete, it was left to Rachel Maclean, Minister for the Future of Transport, to officially mark the start of public testing by taking the first official journey.
Ms Maclean 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 Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) and Smart Cambridge-led 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.
They will also further explore how smart technology can be used to cut congestion and improve public transport, especially for shift workers, weekend shoppers and revellers.
Claire Ruskin, Director of Cambridge Network and business representative on the GCP Executive Board, added her support: “It is very exciting to see these vehicles working on real roads here as another first in Cambridge.
“These shuttles could 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 significant 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.”
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