The design for the first driverless cars to be tested on the streets of London has been revealed.
The consortium behind the trial has decided to adapt electric passenger shuttles that are currently in service at Heathrow Airport for use in Greenwich. Unlike the Heathrow pods, they will not need dedicated tracks.
Seven of the so-called ‘UltraPODs’ will be tested on the pavements around the Greenwich Peninsula, where the 02 Arena is based, from July.
Routes are still being worked out but are likely to include residential areas, the North Greenwich tube station and businesses around the O2.
The cars are part of the £8 million ($11.4 million) Greenwich Automated Transport Environment (GATEway) project.
The project is lead by three British firms — Heathrow Enterprises, Oxbotica and Westfield Sportscars — will be joining forces to develop the existing pods so they can function and perform safely within an urban setting. The exact design of the on-road vehicles has yet to be confirmed.
If successful, the vehicles could be publicly trialed as soon as this summer in Greenwich, London. The route for the trials is still being finalized. However, GATEway plans on running the trials “alongside pedestrians and cyclists in Greenwich,” Professor Nick Reed, technical lead of the GATEway project, told CNBC via email.
Other trials set to take place within GATEway’s driverless car project include autonomous valet parking and automated deliveries.
Other independent projects involving driverless cars are taking place around the U.K., including UK Autodrive’s project in Milton Keynes and Coventry, and Venturer’s in Bristol.
Speaking to the BBC, Prof Nick Read, technical director for the Gateway project, said: “That was perfect for the demonstration and we did consider using it but we had a procurement process and chose the design we have now.
“This vehicle has millions of miles under its belt and now we have to take it outside of the track and modify it for use on pavements,” he added.
The pods will have three months of testing, first with invited users and then with the general public. Each pod can carry six passengers but will require a steward to be present at all times to press the emergency button in the case of a problem.
The trial of the pods will reveal a wealth of data, said Prof Reed.
“It will tell us whether people trust and accept these vehicles and how they would work as part of the urban landscape,” he said.