The first use of fully connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) on public roads is set to take place in Oxfordshire, the Government has announced.
Innovate UK has awarded funding of £2.5 million to trial self-driving vehicles in and around Milton Park, the business and science hub near Didcot.
The vehicles will travel between private roads at Milton Park and the public roads that link the site with nearby transport services.
The 30-month MultiCAV project is led by UK transport operator FirstGroup and will be undertaken by a consortium of organisations with different sector backgrounds who are investing in the development of autonomous vehicles.
Commuters to the site will be able to connect with the self-driving pods from local transport services, while booking and paying for their trip in one easy process.
It is hoped that by the end of the trial, up to 50% of private vehicle journeys within the business park will switch to using the shared, electric-powered pods.
Richard Harrington, BEIS Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Minister for Business and Energy, said: “Through these competitions, we are offering innovative businesses support to take their projects to the next level and help them achieve commercial success.
"The projects that we are nurturing mean that we are a step closer to securing our place as a world leader in self-driving vehicles.
"This significant investment is a mark of the innovation that is at the heart of our modern industrial strategy.
"The development of new technologies is a cornerstone of the UK’s world-class science and research and will ensure that we deliver a Britain fit for the future by creating jobs and the skills needed to succeed.”
Innovate UK Chief Executive Ruth McKernan said: “The quality and commercial potential of these successful projects demonstrate how UK businesses are developing pioneering connected and autonomous vehicle technologies. The impact will benefit our thriving automotive industry and the economy as a whole.”
Yvonne Constance, Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet member for Environment and Economy, added: “Oxfordshire was the first council to consider autonomous vehicles within its transport policy and has been a supporter of the technology since it’s infancy in the UK.
"We have an incredible concentration of AV related companies, and in Culham, RACE the UK’s real-world test bed facility.
"The county council has been keen on including innovation in the delivery of Didcot Garden Town from the very start and this project will be one of the first to demonstrate the approach and further enhance Oxfordshire’s place as a world leader in applied learning and development of AVs.”
The Oxfordshire project was one of 22 connected and autonomous vehicle (CAVs) R&D projects which will share funding following Innovate's announcement on Friday.
Other projects include looking into solving drivers’ parking woes with the consortia Parkopedia Limited using their funding to develop autonomous valet parking systems (AVP) which will allow drivers to leave their car at their final destination and the car will park itself.
And T-CABS will use its funding to build a fleet of 15 seat pods and use them to demonstrate a fare paying public transport service in Cambridge.
These investments mean the UK Government is now supporting 73 connected and autonomous vehicle R&D projects; a portfolio worth around £180 million.