Next step in UK’s bid to dominate autonomous vehicles

autonomous vehicles 080116 Continental technology - dynamic electronic horizon (2)
The UK government is reportedly committed to developing world-class CAV testing infrastructure – image courtesy of Continental Tyres.

The first competition to access funding from a £100m investment programme supporting the creation of test facilities for connected and autonomous vehicles has been launched today.

The announcement was made today (30 March) by Business Secretary Greg Clark at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) connected and autonomous vehicles conference in London.

In his speech to an international audience of more than 400 industry leaders from the automotive and technology sectors, Clark outlined plans to create a cluster of excellence in connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) testing along the M40 corridor between Birmingham and London.

The test bed programme forms part of the government’s Industrial Strategy commitment in the 2016 Autumn Statement to develop world-class CAV testing infrastructure. The programme will use some of the UK’s existing CAV testing centres to create a concentrated cluster of testing facilities in the UKs automotive heartland in the West Midlands, including: Coventry, Birmingham, Milton Keynes, Oxford and London.

By creating a coherent national cluster, government and industry hope to rapidly accelerate the development of CAV technology in the UK, grow intellectual capital in this field, attract overseas investment and create a national ecosystem that covers all testing requirements for CAV technology from computer programme design to on-road testing.

The programme, which is being match funded by industry, to take the total spend up to £200m over four years, is being launched as a grant through a series of funding competitions. The first competition announced today will allow bids for an initial share of £55m.

BEIS - Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark.
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark.

Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark explained: “By 2035, the global market for connected and autonomous vehicle technologies is predicted to be worth £63bn. Our investment and collaboration with industry to build on our strengths and create a cluster of excellence will ensure we are at the forefront of its development and perfectly positioned to lead and capitalise on this market.

“The test bed is an example of the Industrial Strategy the government is committed to delivering. At its heart is a world class science, research and innovation base which will continue to offer high-skill, well-paying jobs, ensuring the UK delivers an economy that works for everyone and cement itself as one of the world’s ‘go-to’ destinations for testing driverless car technology, now and in the future.”

CEO of SMMT, Mike Hawes commented: “The UK is a hotbed of innovation and one of the fastest moving areas is in connected and autonomous vehicles. We want the UK to be the destination of choice for the development and testing of this new generation of vehicles.

“Government support and investment, such as we are seeing today, will help this technology flourish allowing the UK to reap the economic and societal benefits.”

Industry comment

RDM Group, which was displaying ‘Pod Zero’ at the SMMT Connected Conference, welcomed the announcement by the Business Secretary.

The Pod Zero is being showcased for the first time - image courtesy of RDM.
The Pod Zero comes in two, four or eight seat variations – image courtesy of RDM Group.

Miles Garner, sales and marketing director, said: “The UK has a unique opportunity to lead the world in autonomous vehicles, but we have to be bold and ensure the innovation and technology we are developing gets the support it needs to be tested and brought to market…quicker than any of our international rivals.

“We are doing our best to make this happen and any financial assistance the government can provide to create ‘connected vehicle’ environments will certainly help our expansion both domestically and overseas.

“The latter is a massive opportunity for us and we have just secured a $1m grant from the South Australian Government to further establish our new base in Adelaide and commence trials for a new driverless cargo pod. Our global reach does not stop there and we will shortly be announcing the opening of an office in the United States

“It is certainly exciting times for the UK and the £100m investment in infrastructure will go some way towards helping us achieve our collective vision of being world leaders in autonomous vehicles.”