Typically when someone mentions driverless cars, you’re more likely to think Silicon Valley tech giants than Shoreditch-based startups. But London is evidently motoring towards its own future as a fully-fledged smart city, with the announcement that Greenwich is opening itself up as a real-world testing environment for driverless car technology.
Launched by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab @ Greenwich will see the historic home of the Greenwich Mean Time become one of first places in the UK to allow autonomous vehicles to be tested on its roads and pavements. The government is also throwing its support behind the initiative, setting aside a total of £100m to fund similar projects across the UK.
Part of the inspiration for the project has been resolving three challenges that TRL feels are facing the connected automated vehicles market. These are the large number of new technologies, many of which are unproven; the rate at which those technologies are improving; and the difficulty the automotive industry finds in adapting to and capitalising on constant changes.
However, as one of the largest and most internationally well-connected cities in the world, London would appear to be an ideal place to test, develop and market autonomous vehicle technology. Additionally, TRL has commended government at both the local and national levels for its efforts in creating a regulatory environment conducive to the growth of the smart mobility industry in the UK.
Rob Wallis, CEO of TRL, said: “Many organisations are testing autonomous systems in dedicated off-street facilities. But the success of these vehicles largely depends on how they integrate into real world living environments, alongside existing transport services. By providing a welcoming and real-life regulatory environment for testing, TRL can help accelerate the adoption of new technology and enable the UK to play a pivotal role in the development of this global market over the next five years.”
Transport minister Andrew Jones added: “Driverless cars will improve road safety and bring huge benefits to the economy. We have backed projects in Greenwich with £9m of funding that are helping to turn it into a major centre for testing and demonstration. I am excited to see the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab progress, helping to keep the UK at the forefront of the motoring of the future.”
It’s rare to see such a massive market opening up before everyone’s eyes, so Greenwich and the government are wise to give the UK’s autonomous car industry a jump-start.