The research trial was conducted in London and led by the UK self-driving technology firm, Five, alongside partners including TRL and Direct Line Group, the insurance group.
Their findings were impressive with 96 per cent of participants rating their overall journey experience as positive to very positive, thanks in part to the project’s rigorous safety protocols. In another positive finding 86% said that their expectations had been exceeded.
According to those behind the trial those figures reflected the self-driving system’s ability to keep a safe distance, perceive and manoeuvre safely around obstacles and hazards, drive like a human, and manage roundabouts effectively.
It should also be noted, however, that the participants’ trust in the diligence and professionalism of the safety driver in each vehicle also played a considerable part.
The StreetWise project’s commuter research trial phase, which is the UK’s most advanced demonstration of autonomous driving on public roads, involved inviting members of the public to experience being driven autonomously on a busy, fixed 13 mile route in London which included tramways, a variety of roundabouts, cyclists, pedestrians, T-junctions, signalised pedestrian crossings and a wide variety of vulnerable road users.
Critically, while Five’s self-driving system was found to be high-functioning, the test did require one of the most rigorous safety cases to be developed and monitored in order to assure safe operation. This included a complete review of the vehicle platform and automated driving system (ADS), safety driver and test engineer selection, training and compliance with the Department for Transport’s (DfT) Code of Practice for automated vehicles testing, UK vehicle standards, UK driving rules and road traffic laws.
Five developed all the self-driving software, tested it on proving grounds and in simulation, demonstrated compliance with the safety case, Code of Practice and all applicable laws, and delivered the driving experience to members of the public.
According to Stan Boland, co-founder and CEO of Five, said: “ Strong consumer trust and enthusiasm to adopt this technology is welcome news for the self-driving industry. It’s also testament to the need for a relentless focus on safety in how self-driving systems are developed and tested.
“Building a completely new self-driving system required Five to create a cloud-based platform to help develop and test the technology. Over time, we came to realise that platforms like this would be essential to unlocking the full potential of self-driving systems, and getting them in front of consumers more quickly. We’re now rolling out our platform to industry partners to help them build better self-driving systems, shorten their time to market, and enable the delivery of evidence-based safety arguments.”
While the test demonstrated the safety of self-driving it also highlighted problems such as the regulation of smart vehicles in terms of what testing should be done, the transparency of test data and the rigour using that evidence to prove a set of arguments that add up to the assertion that the system is safe.
As David Hynd, Chief Scientist for TRL, the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory, explained, “Moving forwards, it is essential that the wider industry comes together to build on what we have achieved so far, so that we not only learn from our combined findings, but also so we can build the framework whereby we harmonise the standards for a future that includes automated vehicles.”
According to the organisers this has been one of the most advanced demonstrations of self-driving vehicles anywhere in the world.
As accidents involving autonomous vehicles have gained considerable media coverage those behind this project must have found the reactions of the public to have been encouraging with the overwhelming majority expressing such a positive reaction.