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London to trial driverless cars

London is to trial its first driverless cars on the streets of Greenwich this summer. The vehicles will use camera and laser sensors to navigate through their surroundings.

The £8 million GATEway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) driverless car project will see three British companies - Westfield Sportscars, Heathrow Enterprises and Oxbotica - develop pods capable of operating fully autonomously and safely on the streets of London.

The companies will modify existing Ultra Pods currently in service at Heathrow Airport. These vehicles have been operating at Heathrow Terminal 5 for nearly five years, in which time they’ve carried 1.5 million passengers and completed three million kilometres of fully automated operation. Led by Westfield Sportcars, these pods will now be adapted to navigate the streets of Greenwich without the need for dedicated tracks.

Oxbotica, a spin-off from Oxford University’s Mobile Robotics Group, will develop the sensors for the vehicle, which includes cameras and scanning lasers. The company will supply the autonomy solution, which includes mapping, localisation, perception and trajectory planning.

Oxbotica’s navigation device incorporates a Bumblebee2 stereo camera from Point Grey to compute visual odometry and two Hokuyo 2D laser scanners, although it is unclear whether this device forms part of the pods to be used in the GATEway project.

The combination of camera and laser sensor is designed to give the necessary information for the vehicle to navigate through its surroundings. The lasers generate a 3D point cloud of the vehicle’s environment, from which it can calculate its location and orientation on the road. The cameras give information on the trajectory of the vehicle relative to routes it has driven before. Both camera and laser data can also be used to detect obstacles.

Self-driving cars are now being developed by a number of companies, the most well-known example being Google. Google’s autonomous vehicle project started in 2009 and its cars have now driven more than 1 million miles.

Ford’s CEO Mark Fields discussed its autonomous vehicle project at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month. The cars use a Velodyne lidar sensor. The motoring giant has also tested its autonomous cars in snow, conditions particularly difficult for the navigation and obstacle avoidance sensors.

As part of the GATEway project, Westfield will act as the vehicle integrator and manufacturer of the pods, while Heathrow Enterprises will be responsible for vehicle software engineering.

The project will also implement a cloud-based shuttle management system, enabling the pods to operate as part of a synchronised, self-governing ecosystem, complete with smartphone booking applications, monitoring and reporting.

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GATEway project

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