Driverless 'pods' tested with public for first time

Mike Wright
The public are getting their first chance to ride in the pods developed by the Capri consortium are being - CAPRI

Mini-driverless 'pods', which could eventually be ferrying people around busy city centres, have been tested with the public for the first time in Britain.

Shoppers heading to a Bristol shopping centre yesterday had a chance to ride shuttle-like vehicles around its car park.

It is hoped the pods, which have been developed by the company AECOM with government funding, will eventually become a common feature in cities, allowing people to hail them with an app to make short journeys.

The vehicles use radar, sensors and vision processing to navigate busy environments with pedestrians and other cars in real time.

This week’s tests, which are being carried out at The Mall, Cribbs Causeway, are the first time the public will be able to ride in the vehicles without a dedidated supervisor.

As well as testing the vehicles’ ability to navigate crowded areas, AECOM is also using the scheme to gauge the public’s reaction to being in the driverless pods.

George Lunt, Technical Director at AECOM, said: “With a number of environmental, efficiency and mobility benefits associated with connected and autonomous vehicles, there is great potential for the UK to enter a diverse range of international markets. "However, for this idea to fully develop, it is vital the public are on board and have the chance to experience a mobility service that can potentially transform the way they travel.”

If this week’s trials are successful, the company hopes to trial the pods on public roads for the first time later this year.

The project, called CAPRI, has been partly funded by a £35 million government grant aimed at building Britain’s nascent driverless car industry.

The scheme is backed by a consortium headed by AECOM, and made up of 17 other companies and academic institutions, including Heathrow Airport and Bristol University.

The leader of South Gloucestershire Council Cllr Toby Savage, said: "Capri brings together a number of high-tech businesses and organisations which are providing excellent opportunities for the development and growth of CAV (Connected and Autonomous Vehicles)   services in the region. The trial which is taking place at The Mall, Cribbs Causeway is an important step towards transforming the way people travel and perceive automated transport.

“We're excited for South Gloucestershire to be at the forefront of innovation and CAV research and development in the UK, and as a place where industry and research institutes are already choosing to innovate, we are open to providing the infrastructure, platforms and resource we have available to help support innovation."