Shoppers given the chance to experience autonomous vehicles at The Mall, Cribbs Causeway

Media Relations Team, 22 January 2020

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An autonomous bus driving around the car park

Researchers from the Centre for Transport and Society, University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), and Bristol Robotics Laboratory are participating in the testing of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) at a trial at The Mall shopping centre, Cribbs Causeway. As part of the Capri project, shoppers are experiencing travel in driverless pods and gaining an insight into how they might operate in the future.

Providing a shuttle service, the British made pods operate autonomously - navigating crowded outside areas with pedestrians, push-chairs, mobility scooters, bikes and animals.

UK public CAV trials to date have had a dedicated engineer inside the vehicle overseeing a safe journey. The Capri trial is the first in the UK without this level of supervision, inviting members of the public to turn up and travel alone in the autonomous pod.

The research project will broaden the UK's knowledge of the impact of connected and autonomous vehicles and help inform the future direction of their development and implementation.

The research used in this trial will also help reduce potential barriers limiting the uptake of commercially ready autonomous vehicle services. This includes overcoming technical challenges, raising public awareness and ensuring sustainable integration into the wider transport system. The pilot will support the local and UK economy by helping regional and national businesses become more competitive in a growing international market.

Capri is a consortium comprising 17 partners, including lead organisation AECOM, South Gloucestershire Council and UWE Bristol.

Representing UWE Bristol on the project are academics from the Centre for Transport and Society and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL). Graham Parkhurst, Professor of Sustainable Mobility, is leading a team examining the 'end-to-end' user experience of booking, paying for, gaining access to and travelling in an autonomous POD vehicle which is part of a small network. Professor Tony Pipe, Deputy Director of the BRL, is involved in the verification and validation of the correctness of the decision making system, the highest level of the vehicle's control system that makes decisions about how the vehicle should behave.

Professor Parkhurst said: “As part of the Capri project, UWE Bristol is looking at public expectations and perceptions with respect to these self-driving vehicles as well as the experience of travelling in the vehicle during any trials. The work carried out at The Mall will include questions about trust in the technology, comfort when travelling, and current and future mobility preferences. The information will help us build up a picture of the sort of self-driving shuttle services people might like to see in the future, as well as their thoughts on using 'driverless vehicles'.”

Professor Pipe said: “Clearly, a critical part of building trust in any new technology is that it is demonstrably safe, so the work we are contributing on ensuring that the decisions made by the vehicle's AI are always correct is essential to the success of the project and its future impact on society.”

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.

“Together with our partners, we must explore and bring together the technical, social and operational aspects to ensure the research and development gathered will not only allow us to be at the forefront of CAV development but also create a legacy for future generations.”

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 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."

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