From bikes to autonomous buses - how we move in the future is likely to be different to how we move today.
Solihull Council is working to understand how the roads of the future need to look. Across a wide portfolio of projects that stretches from new cycling and walking links, to trialling emerging zero emission autonomous vehicle technology, work to help shape the future is under way.
Our Connected Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) pathfinder project has involved working in partnership with a range of organisations to demonstrate real-world uses and learn about the technology. The aim to better understand how, in the future, residents and visitors might be offered new means of zero emission shared transport and an alternative to single occupancy car journeys.
The trials have utilised a state of the art fully electric shuttle, capable of seating up to ten passengers, and operating both manually and autonomously on the public highway.
Working with the NEC, the first ground-breaking passenger trials in Solihull took place throughout September and October 2021.
Building on the success of this initial deployment further trials have also been completed at Birmingham Airport and Birmingham Business Park.
An autonomous shuttle (also known as a self-driving or driverless vehicle), is a vehicle that uses a range of sensors to understand its surroundings – allowing it to move around safely with little or no operator input. For our trial there will always be a safety operator on-board.
The shuttle is fully electric and has a range of 100 miles. The vehicle is charged at the end of each day.
The shuttle is aware of their environment via many sensors – this means the shuttle will have the ability to stop itself in an emergency or if there is an unexpected hazard in the road. There is also a safety operator on-board at all times who is able to take full control of the vehicle at any time.
The shuttle is capable of operating up to 20mph in autonomous mode.
A safety operator is on board at all times during the trials, in line with current UK legislation relating to autonomy
Although the safety operator has the ability to take control of the shuttle in an emergency, they will not be operating the shuttle on the majority of the route. The route has been pre-mapped so the vehicle is aware of its environment – this means it has the ability to stop itself in an emergency or if there is an unexpected hazard in the road.
The goal for this technology is to remove the need for a safety operator within the vehicle in the future, instead allowing them to be remotely monitored using CCTV from a control room.
The project has been funded by a grant from the GBSLEP alongside support from the West Midlands Combined Authority.
The Council have a responsibility to look ahead to 10, 15, 20 years in the future to best understand how to design future roads and new residential and commercial areas. As well as this, the Council is committed to bringing forward zero-emission transport solutions in response to the climate emergency and the race to net zero.
Full roll out of truly autonomous technology (without any safety supervisor) is still some years away, but if projections are realised then the industry could become a significant economic contributor to the region, creating many jobs in information technology and manufacturing. The aim is not to replace drivers on existing services, but begin to introduce services that are more flexible but currently too costly to provide, such as rural demand-responsive-transport.
The shuttle is fully accessible to wheelchair users. It is equipped with an integrated ramp, a floor anchor and restraint system.
The CAV trials are a collaboration between Solihull Council, The GBSLEP and Coventry-based engineering firm Aurrigo Driverless Technology who designed and built the shuttle.
The shuttle was trialled at Birmingham Airport throughout March and April 2022, with a view to conduct further trials both at the Airport and at other locations around the borough in the coming months.
The recent Birmingham Airport passenger trial was open to anyone over 18, or over 12 if accompanied by an adult.
The success of these trials will provide knowledge and experience of self-driving vehicles in a real-world environment, meaning that they could be rolled-out elsewhere in Solihull in the future.
For more information about any element of this project, please contact project manager Colin Maltby at email@example.com