Road Safety News

£11 million autonomous vehicle research programme launched

Tuesday 27th October 2015

An £11 million research programme has been launched to help further the development of fully autonomous cars capable of operating safely on the UK’s roads.

The research, jointly funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)* and Jaguar Land Rover, will take place at 10 UK universities and the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL).

As part of its strategic partnership with Jaguar Land Rover, EPSRC issued a joint call for research proposals that focussed on developing fully autonomous cars: Towards Autonomy - Smart and Connected Control (TASCC).

The research, which will examine key technologies and questions that need to be addressed before driverless cars can be allowed on the roads without a safety risk, has been awarded to five different projects.

A team led by Birmingham and Edinburgh universities will focus on the development of new radar sensors and advanced video analysis that would allow cars to better identify obstacles and hazards on the road.

Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton will study drivers’ reactions to autonomous vehicles, with the aim of designing the best driver-vehicle interaction.

University College London engineers and researchers from Cranfield University will look into the effects of automated driving on drivers’ attention and cognition and any possible negative impact on driving.

Researchers from the University of Warwick will focus on the development of a self-learning car that will minimise distractions, enhance safety and deliver a personalised driving experience.

TRL will work alongside the University of Surrey, Warwick University and Imperial College London on a project to understand how distributed control systems and cloud computing can be integrated with vehicles.

Dr Wolfgang Epple, director of research and technology, Jaguar Land Rover, said: “To realise the future potential for fully autonomous vehicles, we need to give drivers, pedestrians and other road users the confidence that a car driving around with little or no human input is a safe, viable and rewarding experience.

“These collaborative projects will bring some of the UK's leading academics together with our autonomous driving team to address the fundamental real-world challenges that are part of our journey towards autonomous driving.”

Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC's chief executive, said: “Science and engineering research is vital to technological innovation and to keeping UK businesses at the forefront of global markets. This joint investment shows how strategic partnerships between the research councils, universities and business can identify industry's challenges and build the academic expertise needed to meet them.”

As the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, EPSRC's vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world to 'Research, Discover and Innovate'. By investing £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, EPSRC is building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. Its portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research it funds has impact across all sectors.


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A year ago I saw a TV documentary on New York's horse drawn traffic 100 years ago, complete with period film and data. It confirmed what Mike wrote, with statistics for the number of horses that died on the streets every day and the system in place to remove them. Plus the tons of manure that had to be removed.

I thought I had responded to Graham but it seems not, so here goes. He will find on the web recent dashboard video of 2 Tesla cars deviating from their intended lane into the adjacent oncoming lane, apparently in the belief that they should be following the vehicles that were actually approaching them.

The astonishing specifications of the Tesla S model are on their UK web site, and are very impressive indeed, 300 mile range and 155mph, though not at the same time, for a large 4 door car. Also automatic parking and braking and as of approval a few days ago, automatic steering. But I decided against having one because I would never trust electric steering, let alone automated electric steering, because its as ugly as most modern cars, and because they sell only 2 per day in the UK. The chances of being hit by a wayward one are therefore minimal.

I believe it is only a matter of time before collisions due to malfunctions including sensors failing to sense correctly - fog, rain, snow etc lead to them being banned.
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield

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I read this week that in 1880 a group of extremely bright people were given the task of predicting how life would be in New York in a hundred yearsí time. One of the things that they predicted was that because of the population growth everyone would want transport but nobody would be able to move around easily because the streets would be knee deep in horse muck! OK, so I was reading a work of fiction and I have no idea if that part was based on fact or not but I can go with the principal.

At the moment having vehicles without drivers is not something that would be comfortable for most of us for all of the time. None of us can say how vehicles will function in another hundred yearsí time but we do know they will continue to evolve and become safer. However, itís research like this that will contribute in some measure to how things function and Iím sure there are all sorts of research being conducted by major motor manufacturers that we are currently unaware of. We are constantly asking for trails and proof of initiatives that show if they are worth pursuing or should be consigned to the do not go down this path result. Whether you agree with this mode of transport or not, the research is worth going ahead with and the trials will help prove the viability (or not) of the systems involved. It may also have hidden benefits that may be useful elsewhere.

I wonder if I had been around 100 years ago and said we would be producing two wheeled vehicles capable of 200mph that could be used on a road system where I would have ended up, the asylum for RSOs I guess!
Mike Leicestershire

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There is an interesting survey that keeps getting repeated which asks people whether they would be happy to ride as passengers in a fully automatic, but pilotless aeroplane. The survey results have stuck resolutely at zero irrespective of the fact that we have over fifty years and billions of flying hours experience in fully automatic flight.

Why this is so is explained by Professor James Reason in his book The Human Contribution. In it he tells us that although many people consider the human being to be the first point of failure they also understand that those same human beings are very often the last line of defence. He writes "the human as hero, a system element whose adaptations and compensations have brought troubled systems back from the brink of disaster on a significant number of occasions".

When all the technology failed on US Airways Flight 1549 for example, it was the perfectly human aircraft Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger that saved the day and that's the reason people won't fly without a pilot.

When the computers fail (which they do far too often) in any area of endeavour, it's always the poor old humans that have to be relied on to step in and rescue the situation and so it will be with the driverless car. If the cheerleaders for these things are so convinced that human beings are quite useless when things are going right how come they think the exact opposite when things have gone wrong?
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

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Idris Francis "Fight Back With Facts" Petersfield appears to not be living up to his moniker when he says these vehicles are "mobile accidents waiting to happen".

Frankly I would trust these vehicles much more than the actual "mobile accidents waiting to happen" which are inattentive drivers talking on their phones or texting or getting distracted by what their passenger is saying or...

These vehicles have 100% attention on the road, 100% of the time and there are very few drivers who can honestly claim that.
Graham Marsden, Portsmouth

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I agree with all comments but particularly David's - I have said for years that engineers are out of control, they design over-complex things because they can, not because we need them.

Having spent my working life involved in the remote control of moving objects - including showing Raymond Baxter how to drive the first-ever radio-controlled model racing car in Britain, for Tomorrow's World in the 1960s - I am appalled by the prospect of sharing roads with these mobile accidents waiting to happen. I can only hope that they are soon banned or that too few will be sold to make them viable.
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield

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Will driverless cars ever be driverless? As a driver of one, will I be required to pay attention to what is going on so that I can take control, or will I be able to sit back and read a book? Will I be able to 'drive' such a vehicle with a BAC over the legal limit? Will I be able to remotely program it to come and collect me at the office when I am too tired to walk home, thus meaning that we have vehicles roaming our roads without any occupants at all?

These, and many other, questions need to be answered before we go any further down this road. I see the development of driverless cars not as something to be achieved because it serves a purpose, but merely to show that it can be done so that we can then say 'Aren't we clever?'

I too remain unconvinced of the need for such vehicles. If only £11M could be spent on decent road safety projects, instead of this frivolous, vanity project.
David, Suffolk

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In the link supplied by Peter there is an example of an ethical decision: ".. a child suddenly dashing into the road, forcing the self-driving car to choose between hitting the child or swerving into an oncoming van." I would suggest that this is a scenario that would be anticipated by many human drivers and therefore such an ethical decision would not need to be made. I would be concerned if the programming level of driverless cars could not recognise such scenarios and anticipate, as a human would and simply stop in time - no swerving necesssary.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (5)

MIT Tech review has published a debate on the needs for ethical decisions by driverless cars.

How should the vehicle be programmed to act in the event of an unavoidable crash?

The link will take you to it:
Peter City of Westminster

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Yes Nick, they sound suitable for those who can't, or don't want to drive themselves, but sometimes the publicity for driverless cars suggests that everyone would naturally want one, which I suspect is not the case.

On the other hand, I'm sure we've all seen motorists on the road who definitely should not be in control of a motor vehicle and for whom a driverless car maybe the only solution. Driverless cars could also be bought by celebrities who, facing a driving ban, plead that they need to drive for their charity work.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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How about older people who live in remote/rural areas with no public transport, for whom driving has become a daunting but necessary challenge if they want to remain living where they choose to live?

Or the weary businessman on a lengthy motorway journey home after a long day meeting customers - feeling tired but equally determined to press on in order to get home.

I think both groups may welcome the opportunity to hand the controls over to the vehicle - as long, of course, as they are entirely convinced that the vehicle will be at least as safe as they are.
Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety News

Agree (13) | Disagree (2)

Who exactly is the driverless car aimed at? Is there a false presumption that the motoring public don't actually like driving themselves around and have therefore been eagerly awaiting the day when they won't have to? Would anyone actually own up to being an unsafe driver and accept that, for them, a driverless car is the best way forward (no pun intended)?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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