The self-driving vehicle revolution has gotten underway in the UK, with the first of a number of automated 'pod' trial vehicles unveiled to the public in Milton Keynes this week.
The LUTZ (Low-carbon Urban Transport Zone) Pathfinder is a diminutive electric-powered two-seater that's about half the length of an ordinary car. If you feel the need for speed, however, you may want to look elsewhere for now. The Pathfinder is designed for use in pedestrianised areas, with a top speed of just 24 km/hr.
One of the vehicle's main purposes is to help people who wouldn't otherwise have access to a car to get around in urban environments, such as the young or elderly, disabled people, or simply those who don't own a vehicle.
University student Harry Hess was the first member of the public to take a ride in the pod this week, and said he liked the idea of the technology. "I'd be quite happy to use a driverless vehicle," he said after taking a spin. "I'd use it for trips into town, and I think this is the way all cars will go once people get more used to the idea."
The vehicle is manufactured by Coventry-based auto maker RDM, and is part of a British government initiative designed to ensure the UK stays at the forefront of automated driving technologies, with trials of pod vehicles designed to assess the safety and ultimate feasibility of self-driving cars on UK roads.
It's worth pointing out that the LUTZ Pathfinder shown off this week still features a steering wheel and requires a human driver to control it, as the pod hasn't yet had its self-driving internals installed. After its public unveiling in Milton Keynes, the pod was delivered to Oxford University's Mobile Robotics Group (MRG), who will now install the vehicle's autonomous control system (ACS).
Once the ACS is installed and calibrated, the pod and two others will return to the Milton Keynes to begin on-road autonomous testing in earnest. If all goes as planned with those three LUTZ Pathfinders, a broader trial of 40 vehicles in other UK cities will commence.
"This is a very exciting day for everybody involved in the LUTZ Pathfinder project, because it signals the completion of the manufacturing phase and the effective start of the autonomous technology trial," said Steve Yianni, Transport Systems Catapult CEO, in a press release.
"When you consider that there wasn't even a design in place for this vehicle less than 18 months ago, it has been a really quick turnaround to now have our first research vehicle ready to start work."