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Cab operator and courier services provider Addison Lee has formed a strategic alliance with Oxford-based connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) software developer Oxbotica to accelerate the deployment of CAVs on London’s streets over the next couple of years.
One of the highest profile UK CAV firms, Oxbotica is a frequent contributor to the debate – and evolving government policy – around CAVs, and is currently taking part in a number of active R&D projects and early-stage deployments, including a trial of self-guided electric shuttles at Gatwick Airport. It is also a member of the Driven consortium, which plans to drive a fully autonomous vehicle from London to Oxford by 2020.
The two companies will collaborate on the creation of detailed, digital maps of London’s road system, all 250,000-plus miles of it, noting the position of every kerb, road-sign, landmark and traffic signals, all in an attempt to ensure that future CAVs will be able to find their way around the city safely and efficiently.
“Urban transport will change beyond recognition in the next 10 years with the introduction of self-driving services, and we intend to be at the very forefront of this change by acting now,” said Addison Lee CEO Andy Boland.
“Autonomous technology holds the key to many of the challenges we face in transport. By providing ride-sharing services, we can help address congestion, free space used for parking and improve urban air quality through zero-emission vehicles. We are proud to be partnering with a British technology pioneer and leader in autonomous vehicle technology, Oxbotica, and together we will continue our British success story in how we revolutionise the way people get around cities.”
Over the longer-term, Addison Lee believes CAVs will be an important part of its business, particularly as private car ownership declines in cities like London, and people continue to gravitate towards a more service-driven model of urban transportation, whether through shared car ownership schemes, gig economy services such as Uber, or more traditional booked cab services such as its own.
It hopes to be able to take a greater share of the expanding CAV market, which could be worth as much as £28bn by 2035.
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It said it aimed to use its brand to offer “affordable, quality, ride-shared services” to passengers underserved by existing transport nodes by 2021, and explore opportunities to automate services such as corporate shuttles, campus transport, and airport transfers.
“This represents a huge leap towards bringing autonomous vehicles into mainstream use on the streets of London, and eventually in cities across the UK and beyond,” said Oxbotica CEO Graeme Smith.
“Our partnership with Addison Lee Group represents another milestone for the commercial deployment of our integrated autonomous vehicle and fleet management software systems in complex urban transport conditions. Together, we are taking a major step in delivering the future of mobility.”
Data scientist and machine learning specialist Sally Epstein, from tech consultancy Cambridge Consultants, said she applauded the ambition shown by Addison Lee and Oxbotica, but warned that fully autonomous driving was highly unlikely to become a reality in the timeframe the duo are suggesting.
“Consumers should know we’re nowhere near having genuinely driverless cars on public roads,” she said.
“Mapping data will become out of date as soon as it is collected. Street furniture is constantly changing, with road-works, accidents and more, while human movement in the same environment will remain stubbornly difficult to predict.”
Epstein said that mapping data alone would not be sufficient for this challenge. For example, she suggested maps will need to be intelligently integrated with other sensor data to keep road users safe, and how to do this remains an area of active research.
She also raised the question of how CAV decision-making will be understood after an incident, saying there must be adequate transparency in the system for people to be able to trust it – something that has been lacking to date.
“When fully autonomous vehicles do finally arrive, explaining how their decisions are made – particularly following accidents, will be much more important than any statistical proof that they experience fewer accidents than with humans at the wheel,” she said.