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Multi-million grant will introduce driverless cars to UK roads

A simulator from Williams Advanced Engineering

Press release issued: 4 December 2014

The Chancellor, George Osborne, announced in the Autumn Statement yesterday [Wednesday 3 December] that Bristol will be one of three cities to explore the feasibility of driverless cars in the UK, by trialling autonomous vehicles in the Bristol area.

The collaborative project, known as VENTURER, will build autonomous vehicles and test them on the roads of Bristol and the surrounding regions. VENTURER will apply a range of technologies to remove current barriers to the introduction of driverless vehicles. The aim of the project is to investigate the legal and insurance aspects of driverless cars and exploring how the public react to such vehicles.

The University of Bristol’s Communications Systems & Networks (CSN) group, a world-leader in the development of advanced communication and wireless sensor networks, is one of the partners on the project.  The group will develop wireless links that enable driverless vehicles to communicate with smart city infrastructure. Vehicles will also exchange sensory data via direct car-2-car wireless communication links. This will allow the sharing of hazard warnings and new “look ahead” functionality.   

Bristol Robotics Laboratory, a collaboration between the University and UWE Bristol, will provide system integration. BRL will customise the vehicle to make it suitable for urban transportation and equip the cars with sensing and video processing capabilities.    

Dr Robert Piechocki, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and who is leading on the project at Bristol, said: “Intelligent sensing and reliable wireless connectivity will be pivotal for the development of autonomous city transportation systems. Public acceptance can only be gained if those systems can be shown to offer safe and convenient alternative.  The dawn of cars that drive themselves will represent a revolution on our roads – the biggest change we have seen since the invention of the internal combustion engine.”

Professor Andrew Nix, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, commented: “VENTURER is the latest project to benefit from our commitment to develop a city-wide living lab. I look forward to seeing autonomous smart vehicles under test around the streets of Bristol.”

The Rt Hon Dr Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), added: “The UK is a world-leader in the development of driverless technology, and the Autumn Statement announcement will see driverless cars take to city streets from 1 January. This not only puts us at the forefront of this transformational technology but it also opens up new opportunities for our economy and society.

“Through the government’s industrial strategy we are backing the automotive sector as it goes from strength to strength. We are providing the right environment to give businesses the confidence to invest and create high skilled jobs.”

Widespread adoption of driverless (autonomous) vehicles could provide a range of social and environmental benefits such as:  increased efficiency, safety, comfort and providing mobility options to a wider public. Technological progress is relentless and cars are already becoming increasingly automated. Many modern cars incorporate cruise control, parking and lane assist functions, thereby already operate semi autonomously.

VENTURER will help keep the UK at the forefront of this transformational technology, helping to deepen our understanding of the impact on road users and wider society and open up new opportunities for our economy and society.

Bristol has a long track record of technological innovation and offers a perfect location to test driverless cars. The city is built around hills, rivers, bridges and bends. This challenging terrain will provide important data that can be used to successfully introduce driverless cars in cities and towns across the UK to reduce congestion, improve air quality and use our roads more efficiently and safely.

VENTURER has secured funding for the project from Innovate UK. The consortium partners from industry, academia and local authorities includes:  

  • Williams Advanced Engineering
  • AXA Insurance
  • Fusion Processing
  • University of Bristol [Communications Systems and Networks group and Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL)]
  • University of the West of England [Centre for Transport and Society and Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL)]
  • West of England Local Enterprise Partnership
  • Bristol City Council
  • South Gloucestershire Council 

Further information

Read more about George Osborne’s announcement on driverless cars on the BBC website.

About Innovate UK

Innovate UK (formerly the Technology Strategy Board) is the UK’s innovation agency. Innovate UK accelerates UK economic growth by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation. Innovate UK is a business-led executive non-departmental public body, sponsored and funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

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