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UK launches first commercial driverless car lab in Oxfordshire

Digital Economy | Smart Mobility

*The following Cities Today article has been republished with the publisher’s kind permission. The original article can be found here.

The United Kingdom’s first commercial lab to trial driverless cars using 5G and satellite technology has been launched as part of a four-year programme supported by telco O2 and the European Space Agency.

The Darwin SatCom Lab – based at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire – will collaborate with firms looking to test connectivity solutions for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs).

Companies are being invited to test proofs of concept using two Renault TWIZY electric cars, which the operator has converted into CAVs and fitted with LIDAR sensors to allow them to be controlled from the lab and driven around the Harwell campus.

Dr. Joanna Hart, Harwell Space Cluster Development Manager at Harwell Campus, said the lab “offers forward-looking companies the opportunity to harness the power of 5G and satellite communications and make their ideas a commercial reality,” adding the project is open to local and international firms “who want to put theory into practice”.

Last mile

One proof of concept already underway at the campus tracks CO2 emissions of vehicles using LIDAR sensors, with satellite imagery being used to see the areas vehicles are travelling through and monitor local biodiversity.

The laboratory team is then able to calculate the emissions savings of taking different routes based on carbon capture from nearby trees, with O2 hoping the research will inform how its retail partners carry out last mile deliveries.

Derek McManus, Chief Operating Officer, O2, said the lab is “the next step in getting autonomous vehicles on the road and making the UK’s transport network greener.”

CAV growth

Over the past two years, interest in CAV technology has grown substantially in the UK, with the government’s 5G Urban Connected Communities scheme establishing testbeds across the West Midlands region.

In London, the Smart Mobility Living Lab – launched in 2018 as part of a collaboration between different partners in the mobility space, including the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), Transport for London, Cisco, Zenzic and DG Cities – officially opened its doors last week, hosting a virtual ribbon-cutting.

The lab uses 24 kilometres of public roads in the borough of Greenwich and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford to create a complex testing environment for businesses and public sector organisations to test future mobility options.

Image credit: Harwell Campus via Cities Today

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