London’s first driverless cars revealed

The consortium behind the trial has decided to adapt electric passenger shuttles that are currently in service at Heathrow Airport for use in Greenwich.

Unlike the Heathrow pods, they will not need dedicated tracks.

The BBC reports that the Greenwich trial is one of four in the UK to test driverless technology and public reaction to it.

Apart from the Gateway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment), the other trials will take place in Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes. The £8m project is jointly funded by government agency Innovate UK and industry.

Seven of the pods will be tested on the pavements around the Greenwich Peninsula, where the 02 Arena is based, from July.

Routes are still being worked out but are likely to include residential areas, the North Greenwich tube station and businesses around the O2.

The vehicle shown off at the demonstration event was likened to a milk float
The design is different from the one shown off at the launch of the scheme, when a shuttle vehicle designed by autonomous vehicle firm Phoenix Wings was demonstrated.

“That was perfect for the demonstration and we did consider using it but we had a procurement process and chose the design we have now,” Prof Nick Reed, technical director for the Gateway project, told the BBC.

“This vehicle has millions of miles under its belt and now we have to take it outside of the track and modify it for use on pavements,” he added.

The so-called UltraPODs currently in service at Heathrow carry passengers between the car park and Terminal 5. In the five years they have been in use, they have carried 1.5 million passengers and travelled three million kilometres (1.8 million miles).

Westfield Sportscars, a British carmaker, will be responsible for manufacturing and testing of the pods. Heathrow Enterprise will design the software while a third British firm, Oxbotica, will provide mapping and other sensors to ensure the vehicles are safe.

The pods will have three months of testing, first with invited users and then with the general public. Each pod can carry six passengers but will require a steward to be present at all times to press the emergency button in the case of a problem.

The trial of the pods will reveal a wealth of data, said Prof Reed.

“It will tell us whether people trust and accept these vehicles and how they would work as part of the urban landscape,” he said.

The government wants to become a world leader in the area of driverless car technology.