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Aviva to launch autonomous vehicle trial on public roads in UK

Research work at UK’s first commercial laboratory for 5G and satellite communications, the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, takes next step with real-life road run of shuttle bus in Oxford

Aviva and Darwin Innovation Group are to begin a five-year strategic partnership, beginning with a collaboration that will see an autonomous shuttle, controlled by 5G and satellite connectivity, transport members of the public around the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.

In October 2020, after a four-year trial supported by O2 and the European Space Agency, the telco announced the opening of the Darwin SatCom Lab, the UK’s first commercial laboratory for 5G and satellite communications, at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus. The laboratory enables companies to explore next-generation connectivity for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) using both 5G and satellite communications.

Insurance giant Aviva will now build on the work of O2 and Darwin by launching an autonomous vehicle trial on public roads. Created by self-driving solutions provider Navya, the vehicle will be controlled by 5G and satellite connectivity and will be able to pick passengers up, transport them around the campus and drop them off at their destination, all without the involvement of a human driver. A second shuttle is expected to be added in the second year of operation.

The electric shuttles will operate 24/7, which is designed to allow the capture of test data in different light and weather conditions, and will transmit this data via 5G and satellite channels. The vehicles will have a high level of automation – level 4 autonomy, according to SAE International’s levels of driving automation – and they do not have a steering wheel.

Darwin says it has carefully mapped out the campus and provided the shuttles with all the information they will need to navigate the area. The vehicles will be able to communicate with each other, and will be well equipped with sensors, so they can navigate without obstructing each other and can react to any unexpected obstacles.

Explaining the role of the insurer in the project, the partners say that even though autonomous vehicles offer the potential to dramatically improve road safety and revolutionise the UK’s mobility system, as the technology within vehicles evolves and the day draws closer to having fully autonomous vehicles on our roads, there will be new risks and vehicle uses that insurers will have to assess when underwriting these vehicles. 

The trial will showcase the application of connected autonomous vehicles and allow Aviva to build its first comprehensive insurance model for this type of vehicle, which will evolve as the trial progresses.

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“With this trial, we are able to be there right from the start of the real-life application of autonomous vehicles operating on public roads, which will change not only our relationship with these vehicles but, more fundamentally, how we insure them,” said Aviva chief operating officer Nick Amin. “Autonomous vehicles could change the face of motor insurance within a decade.

“Through having access to the data from this trial, we can understand today the kinds of things we will have to consider in the future to keep passengers, pedestrians and all other road users safe when driverless technology hits public roads.”

Darwin delivery director Daniela Petrovic added: “For any emergent market to be a success, we need to create an ecosystem of companies that share a vision for innovation and are willing to expand their core competency into something new. Emergent markets are usually found at the intersection of industries, and that is why, for the CAV ecosystem to work, we must gather actors from multiple industries to work together.

“The Darwin team are delighted to have Aviva as a partner in this ecosystem, jointly creating new insurance models and enabling CAVs to become mainstream in the UK market.”

Sergio Budkin, director of business products at the newly formed Virgin Media O2, said: “It is encouraging to see the CAV ecosystem grow through this strategic partnership between Darwin Innovation Group and Aviva. We are also delighted to see companies putting theory into practice by launching trials using CAVs.”

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