According to Khabar Khodro, some 300 kilometres (188
miles) of roads in the West Midlands are to be used as an autonomous vehicle
test route from later this year as part of a project to test the technology’s
compatibility with existing infrastructure.
The Midlands Future Mobility scheme is being overseen by
a consortium of organisations including Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG),
MIRA, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), Costain, Amey, Wireless
Infrastructure Group, Vodafone, Coventry University and Highways England.
The route, which runs from the University of Warwick to
the centre of Birmingham, is 95% composed of existing infrastructure, but
testing is said to cause "no disruption to drivers or the homes along it”. New
equipment being installed for the purposes of the trials includes weather
stations, communications units and smart CCTV.
So-called ‘connected’ vehicles - which can communicate
with other vehicles and warn of upcoming hazards - will be the first to use the
route, and will be physically controlled by a driver. Autonomous vehicles will
be trialled in the future, but will be closely observed and operators will
immediately take control in the event of any problem.
The organisers of the trials claim: "All testing will be
as safe if not safer than current vehicles on the road.”
The route is set to be extended to 350km (219 miles)
later this year to include rural roads and some sections of motorway, with
plans to gradually introduce more advanced driver assistance programmes like
lane-keep assistance and intelligent speed limiters.
The consortium estimates that the autonomous vehicle
industry will be worth £62 billion to the UK economy by 2030, and has designed
the planned route to be "ideally located and within easy reach of many
potential environment users”.
Project director John Fox 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