Work has begun on the 300km Midlands Future Mobility test environment - spanning from Coventry to Birmingham, which will see autonomous vehicles trialled on urban, rural, suburban and highway roads.
The project is run by a consortium of companies including WMG, MIRA, Transport for West Midlands, Costain, Amey, Wireless Infrastructure Group, Vodafone, Coventry University and Highways England. The autonomous vehicle industry is estimated to be worth up to £62 billion to the UK economy by 2030.
The route has been developed by Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) in collaboration with Coventry City Council, Birmingham City Council and Solihull Council and provides a 300km network of inner city, suburban and rural roads, on which to fully assess vehicle performance in a wide range of real-world locations and situations.
The first types of vehicle to be trialled along the route will be “connected” vehicles which can ‘talk’ to each other and warn of traffic, crashes and other hazards that other connected vehicles may have seen or be heading towards.
The vehicles on the Midlands Future Mobility route will not be driving themselves during the early stages of research — initially they will have a driver and occasionally a second person monitoring how the vehicles are working. All testing will be as safe, if not safer, than current vehicles on the road. The route includes infrastructure such as smart CCTV, weather stations, communications units, and highly accurate GPS.
In the future autonomous vehicles will be trialled on the route, however these will also be closely monitored by safety operators ready to take over immediately in the event of a problem. These autonomous vehicles will appear gradually as more and more advanced “Driver Assistance” systems are tested, including lane centring and auto-speed limiting technology.
The route itself causes no disruption to drivers or the homes along it, as it uses existing road infrastructure 95% of the time. Phase one of the route includes the University of Warwick, Coventry ring road, roads in Meriden, Solihull and central Birmingham (around the Jewellery Quarter). Later this year the route will be extended to include rural and highway roads and span up to 350km.
Project consortium member Costain and contractor Siemens Mobility have begun work on the route, which will officially open for trials later this year. Both firms, are of course, practicing social distancing in the construction of important technical features such as CCTV networks along the route.
John Fox, Midlands Future Mobility project director, said: “It is great to see that work has begun in making roads a more connected place, where drivers can make their journeys more safely and where goods can be delivered more efficiently.
“The West Midlands has a rich history of the automotive industry, and to see it is now progressing into Autonomous vehicles feels somewhat momentous.”
Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street, who leads TfWM, said: “Connected and autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to radically change our lives, and I am pleased the West Midland is leading the way in this sector with research facilities and production plants already in place.
“I am determined our region will become a global leader in electric and autonomous vehicle technology, as I know we have the skills, facilities, and drive to compete with any other city or region in the world.
“Seeing our roads being used as a test bed for this new technology is both exciting and a step forward, and this vital research will help pave the way to bring key investment and jobs to the region as we look to bounce back from the COVID-19 crisis.”
John Batterbee, Costain Group technology solutions director, said: “Today is a key milestone in starting to deploy the advanced infrastructure technologies we have developed over the last couple of years that are putting the UK at the forefront of the global mobility revolution. The cameras and video analytics we’re deploying will, for example, save lives by enabling drivers to be alerted to hazards beyond the line of sight.”
Wilke Reints, Siemens Mobility intelligent traffic systems managing director, said: “With CAVs offering huge potential to improve safety, reduce congestion and help optimise traffic flow, this project is a further demonstration of the UK’s capabilities in this exciting and fast-moving sector. It allows us collectively to demonstrate how smart technology enables vehicles to be connected via high-speed, high-capacity wireless infrastructure across a whole road network.”