Solihull Council, UK, launches trial of fully electric autonomous shuttle
Solihull Council has become the first local authority in the UK to purchase a fully electric autonomous shuttle and begin passenger trials.
Credit: West Midlands Combined Authority - From left: Councillor Ken Hawkins, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Environment & Infrastructure at Solihull Council; Gary Masters, NEC Campus General Manager; Chris Lane, Head of Transport Innovation at TfWM; and Ewa Truchanowicz, GBSLEP Board Director.
Solihull has become one of the first places in the UK to see driverless vehicles take to its roads as part of new ground-breaking passenger trials. As part of the wider UK Central investment programme being funded by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), the trial has been launched to test out how Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) might be integrated into the borough’s transport network in the future.
Securing funds from the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP), Solihull Council has become the first local authority in the country to purchase its very own fully electric autonomous shuttle from Coventry-based Aurrigo, which it will initially be trialling at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in October 2021.
The shuttle can carry up to eight passengers and uses a suite of sensors to understand its surroundings, allowing it to move around safely, interacting with live traffic with little or no operator input. For the purposes of the trial, in line with current UK legislation, a safety operator will be on-board at all times, who will have the ability to take control of the shuttle if required. The trial at the NEC will see the shuttle operate autonomously along a one mile pre-mapped section of Pendigo Way between Hall 5 and Resorts World.
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the West Midlands Combined Authority, said: “The region is at the cutting edge of the development of CAV technology, and this real world trial offers an excellent opportunity to understand the role that autonomous vehicles can play in our transport system. This technology has the potential to change the way that we travel and will no doubt become a key part of our future transport system. On top of that, this emerging high-value sector in research and manufacturing is already playing an increasingly important role in the Green Industrial Revolution happening right here in the West Midlands.”
Those behind the project are encouraging anyone who wants to take part and experience one of the first fully self-driving shuttles in the UK to book a free ride. The success of this initial trial will provide knowledge and experience of self-driving vehicles in a real-world environment, meaning that they could be rolled-out elsewhere in Solihull in the future.
Councillor Ken Hawkins, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Environment and Infrastructure, said: “CAV technology has the potential to revolutionise the way that we get around our towns, cities and rural areas, as well as transport goods. This trial is all about looking at how we can practically and safely start to incorporate autonomous vehicles into our future transport infrastructure. Already one of the best connected destinations in the UK and Europe, the NEC is the perfect place to trial our shuttle and look at how it can be used to improve the first and last mile passenger experience. Alongside the obvious environmental benefits, this is an excellent example of how smart technology could be used to cut congestion and improve public transport. The results of our trials will provide learning on future mobility services and highway infrastructure design across all future development sites within Solihull and the wider region, including integration with the HS2 Interchange at Arden Cross.”
Ewa Truchanowicz, Board Director at the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP), said: “It’s fantastic to see the fully electric autonomous vehicle operating at the NEC. We allocated £250,000 from our Local Growth Fund into this Solihull Council-led trial as we recognise the huge potential for Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs). This is one element of our wider GBSLEP vision to deliver clean growth across our region. By reducing CO2 emissions and reducing congestion through shared occupancy, CAVs will have an impact on the way that we all travel in the future. I would encourage people to take part and experience one of the first fully self-driving shuttles in the UK.”