Self-driving vehicles will help deliver passengers and cargo in and around Sunderland, after two projects based there were awarded a share of £81m in joint government and industry support for self-driving transport technology.
Project V-CAL, being led by the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA), will run up to 4 zero-emission autonomous HGVs between the Vantec and Nissan Sunderland sites, on private roads where the vehicles will navigate traffic lights, roundabouts, and other road users. This is a major step towards deploying the technology on public roads. The work, in partnership with Vantec, Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK (NMUK), StreetDrone, Nokia, Newcastle University, ANGOKA, and Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP, has been awarded £4m by government, matched by industry to a total £8m. The HGVs will operate without any personnel on board but will be monitored by a remote safety driver as backup.
Northern Ireland’s first fully-automated shuttle service will also enter service at Belfast Harbour. The ‘Harlander’ project will establish an automated passenger shuttle service from the Titanic Quarter railway station to Thompson Dock in Queen’s Island. The service will transport residents, visitors and employees to venues such as Titanic Belfast, Catalyst and Belfast Metropolitan College. The operation of the shuttle will also support Belfast Harbour’s delivery of a Strategic Transport Masterplan for Queen’s Island. The government is providing £5.5m in backing, matched by industry to a total £11m.
The projects are two of seven successful initiatives from around the UK, and form the most advanced set of commercial, self-driving passenger and freight operations anywhere in the world.
The grants, part of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles Connected and Automated Mobility programme, will help British companies seize early opportunities to develop experimental projects into offerings ready for the market.
The Project Harlander team, which will use £11m to deploy a self-driving shuttle service around Belfast Harbour. Image courtesy of David Wood.
The joint government and industry funding winners are:
- CAVForth II – Fusion Processing – £10.4m to launch the world’s first operational, full-sized, self-driving bus service, in Edinburgh, with Stagecoach and Alexander Dennis
- V-CAL – North East Automotive Alliance – £8m to roll out self-driving and remotely piloted HGVs between the Vantec and Nissan sites in Sunderland
- Hub2Hub – HVS – £13.2m to develop a new, zero emissions, self-driving HGV with Asda
- Sunderland Advanced Mobility Shuttle – City of Sunderland Council – £6m to build and trial a self-driving shuttle service to the University of Sunderland and the Sunderland Royal Hospital
- Project Harlander – Belfast Harbour – £11m to deploy a self-driving shuttle service around Belfast Harbour
- Multi-Area Connected Automated Mobility – Conigital – £15.2m to establish a remote driving control hub, to oversee self-driving vehicles operating in Solihull and Coventry, with the NEC and local councils.
- Project Cambridge Connector – Greater Cambridge Partnership – £17.4m to trial on-demand, self-driving taxis, to complement existing transport services in parts of Cambridge
Business Secretary Grant Shapps said: “In just a few years’ time, the business of self-driving vehicles could add tens of billions to our economy and create tens of thousands of jobs across the UK. This is a massive opportunity to drive forward our priority to grow the economy, which we are determined to seize.
“The support we are providing today will help our transport and technology pioneers steal a march on the global competition, by turning their bright ideas into market-ready products sooner than anyone else.”
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “Self-driving vehicles including buses will positively transform people’s everyday lives – making it easier to get around, access vital services and improve regional connectivity.
“We’re supporting and investing in the safe rollout of this incredible technology to help maximise its full potential, while also creating skilled jobs and boosting growth in this important sector.”
Almost £600,000 is also being awarded for feasibility studies, looking into how self-driving technology could improve public transport in four parts of the UK. These
projects will look into potential routes where automated vehicles could operate exclusively from other traffic, to relieve congestion on the A414 through Hertfordshire and Essex, parts of Eastern Cambridge, Birmingham and Solihull, and Milton Keynes.
Innovate UK Executive Director for Net Zero, Mike Biddle, said: “The Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) sector is of crucial importance to the UK, with the potential to deliver safer, cleaner and more efficient transport systems across a wide range of settings.
“This latest, multi-year round of government’s Commercialising CAM funds builds on the success of previous collaborative R&D programme, stimulating innovation to ensure the UK is at the forefront of the transition towards the commercialisation of self-driving services.”
Self-driving vehicles could revolutionise public transport and passenger travel, especially for those who don’t drive, better connect rural communities and reduce road collisions caused by human error. Forecasts predict that by 2035, 40% of new UK car sales will have self-driving capabilities, with a total market value for connected and automated mobility worth £41.7bn to the UK. This could create nearly 40,000 skilled jobs in connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technology.
The government is also committed to introducing legislation that will enable the safe and timely rollout of self-driving vehicles on UK roads. Under a proposed ‘safety ambition’ for self-driving vehicles to be equivalent in safety to a competent and careful human driver, vehicles will need to meet certain standards to be allowed to ‘self-drive’ on the roads throughout the lifetime of the vehicle. Organisations overseeing self-driving vehicles could face sanctions if standards are not maintained.
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