StreetWise, a collaborative research project led by FiveAI, announced that it will soon begin the U.K.’s largest test of self-driving vehicles on public roads.
The consortium is part of an ambitious program launched two years ago by the U.K. government to encourage development of transformative mobility technologies that would make the country a global leader in next generation transportation modes. The goal of StreetWise is to lead research around the technology of autonomous vehicles, develop methods of validating their safety, and create models for insuring and service them.
“Shared, self-driving vehicle services promise a better way for people to get around, we’ll be working with forward-thinking partners to make these services a reality in European urban environments,” said Stan Boland, cofounder and CEO of FiveAI, in a statement. “The lessons learned through StreetWise provide an important step towards that goal.”
For the moment, the research project will start with a fairly restricted set of parameters. The research trials will be held on a specific route between the London boroughs of Croydon and Bromley, throughout October and November. The route is 19 kilometers, and cars will pick up passengers and drop them off at pre-defined locations. The cars will still have trained safety drivers sitting at the steering wheel.
The technology powering the cars was developed by FiveAI, a U.K.-based startup that is has created a technology stack to power autonomous vehicles. The company is using AI and machine learning that would let cars uses simpler maps to navigate their surroundings. FiveAI raised a round of $2.7 million in 2016, and another round of $18 million in 2017.
Those passengers will be recruited by one of the consortium partners, Direct Line Group, a U.K. car insurance provider. Its interest obviously is understanding what issues could arise, as well as reactions of passengers, to begin understanding what types of insurance could be offered.
Another partner, TRL, once known as the Transport Research Laboratory before it was privatized, will also interview passengers to get insights into subjects such as trust and the economics, including what people might be willing to pay for a self-driving car service.
Neither StreetWise nor any of the consortium partners plan to develop self-driving cars themselves. FiveAI is creating a platform that it would deploy with partners.
Rather, the overall goal is to accelerate the viability of autonomous vehicles, which the consortium believes will ultimately offer numerous benefits, such as reducing the number of cars on roads, fighting pollution, and expanding accessibility to a wider range of citizens.
“The untapped potential of self-driving vehicle technology is huge — it could enhance road safety, tackle isolation, and create economic opportunities,” said U.K. Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps in a statement. “The Government’s Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy sets out how it is planning for the introduction of self-driving vehicles, and StreetWise’s successful trial will be a major step to rolling out the next phase of the UK’s transport revolution.”