New Company Could Be Testing Driverless Cars in London as Soon as This Summer

Don’t you just love it when several big-name companies battle it out, and then comes a new one, out of the blue (well, kind of), and cuts them all in front like they weren’t even there?
Heathrow Ultra PODS 1 photo
Photo: via GATEway Project
If you’re not working for one of those well-known enterprises in question, you might enjoy this kind of story, but if Google, Apple, Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, GM and so on are the ones issuing your paycheck, this newcomer might seem like more of a nuisance.

But GATEway isn’t looking to steal anybody’s bread. The £8 million ($11.4 million) project called Greenwich Automated Transport Environment (GATEway) is a joint venture between three British firms - Heathrow Enterprises, Oxbotica and Westfield Sportscars - and it aims to develop autonomous transport pods that can navigate freely and safely through the city without human intervention.

The design of the pods themselves hasn’t been settled yet, but it is reported that it will rely heavily on the “Ultra PODS” already in use at the Heathrow Airport. Only the sole tracks the new vehicles will be riding on will be the imaginary ones set out by their CPUs after analyzing the environment.

The nature of the three firms involved makes a strong case for the project’s success - they have a little bit of everything - and depending on how quickly they can come up with a prototype for the vehicles, public tests might begin as soon as this summer. The autonomous cars (or pods) will be zooming around Greenwich, London, but a clear route is yet to be set.

The tests seek to establish the main issues these vehicles would have to face in an urban environment, as well as the public’s level of engagement and how easily they can accommodate with the idea of sharing the road with driverless cars. Initially, the trials are scheduled to last anywhere between three to six weeks, but the period might be extended. Professor Nick Reed, technical lead of the GATEway project, hopes the public will be curious (and adventurous, it has to be said) enough to book a ride in the shuttles during the testing phase.

Speaking to CNBC via email, he said, "The purpose of the project is to understand and overcome the technical, legal and societal barriers of implementing automated vehicles in an urban environment. Once we understand the issues and challenges surrounding automated vehicles, we can then see how deployment can best work."

So these are not your typical autonomous cars everyone else is trying to create. In fact, the whole project seems more like a realistic version of the NEXT futuristic public transportation idea, only this one could actually see the light of day sometime sooner than 2050. Just think of GATEway as a sort of micro public transport solution that doesn’t come with a driver. To all of us who have ever taken a cab, that must sound very, very enticing.
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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