Birmingham tests autonomous cars on public roads

  • June 21, 2021
  • Steve Rogerson

The UK’s second largest city Birmingham has started testing autonomous vehicle on public roads as part of Project Endeavour, a government-backed mobility research project.

Starting this month, the trials offer Project Endeavour partners the opportunity to refine local deployment approaches as well as understand and model the complex and busy road network in Birmingham.

The Birmingham trials follow a successful deployment in Oxford and the project will culminate with a final demonstration at a showcase event in Greenwich in August 2021.

The trial will use four Ford Mondeo vehicles fitted with lidar, radar and stereo cameras and integrated with Oxbotica’s autonomy software platform. The fleet, capable of level-four autonomous driving, will operate in an 8km area around Lea Hall station, between Birmingham International Airport and the city centre. During the trials, a professionally-trained safety driver will be in the vehicle, capable of resuming control if necessary.

Trials will run throughout the day for several weeks, allowing the autonomous vehicles to experience a range of traffic scenarios and weather conditions. The routes include roundabouts, traffic lights and junctions in industrial and residential areas, all providing their own challenges for the autonomous vehicles to demonstrate capability.

The aim is to accelerate the deployment of autonomous vehicle services across the UK by creating a flexible, scalable model that will make the deployment process quicker, easier and more efficient, while maintaining high safety standards.

“Project Endeavour is a one-of-a-kind research project that is allowing us to learn about the challenges of deploying autonomous vehicles in multiple cities across the UK, a key part of being able to deploy services safely and at scale,” said Oxbotica’s Graeme Smith, director of Project Endeavour. “This stage of the mobility project is a new step for us, as Birmingham hosts our fleet of autonomous vehicles for the first time in real-life environments, and there has been a huge amount of enthusiasm from the local authority in the UK’s second largest city ahead of the deployment. So far, Project Endeavour has been a real collaborative effort, bringing everyone into the discussion, from local authorities, to road safety groups, transport providers and, most importantly, the general public.”

As part of the deployment, Birmingham City Council is keen to understand the impact autonomous vehicle services could have on areas with limited connectivity, and how improving access to employment hubs could boost job opportunities and reduce private vehicle use.