Self-driving vehicles are to be used on public roads for the first time after the government green-lit a £2.5 million investment to trial connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) in Oxfordshire.
The vehicles will travel between private roads at Milton Park – a large, high-tech business and science hub near Didcot – and the public roads that link the site with nearby transport services.
During the trial, commuters to the site will be able to connect with the self-driving pods from local transport services, while booking and paying for their trip in one easy process.
It is hoped that by the end of the trial, up to half of private vehicle journeys within the business park will be carried out using the shared, electric-powered pods.
John Cotton, leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, believes the funding will deliver an exciting regular commercial service, using innovative transport to connect residents, visitors and workers to the surrounding business community based on Milton Park.
This funding is just part of a larger investment from the government into self-driving vehicles, with £22.4 million set aside to fund 22 promising CAV research and development projects that aim to deliver technology and services that will shape the future of transport.
Other projects confirmed to benefit from the investment include self-driving off-road vehicles, capable of operating in some of the most extreme environments. These vehicles will be able to function in situations where weather visibility is so poor human drivers would struggle to navigate.
Another project to receive funding is autonomous valet parking systems that allow drivers to leave their car at their final destination and see the car park itself.
These investments mean the UK government now supports 73 connected and autonomous vehicle R&D projects to the value of around £180 million.
It is hoped that fully self-driving vehicles will be on UK roads by 2021 and this funding is intended to directly drive towards that goal.
Automotive minister Richard Harrington said the projects being funded will take the UK a step closer to securing its place as a world leader in self-driving vehicles.
Ruth McKernan, chief executive Innovate UK – the UK's innovation agency – said: “The quality and commercial potential of these successful projects demonstrate how UK businesses are developing pioneering connected and autonomous vehicle technologies. The impact will benefit our thriving automotive industry and the economy as a whole.”
Stephen Hasley, brand manager at The Fuelcard People, added: “It’s great to see the UK government pump cash into making Britain a leader in self-driving technology.”