Culham gears up to become major driverless car test site following report’s findings

Alistair Duncan, Senior Media Manager
24 February 2017
Electric vehicle as RACE, Culham.
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A consortium led by Amey to explore the public perceptions of driverless cars has published its findings, with plans now being made for the Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire to become a major test site for the vehicles.

In 2016, Amey and partners RACE, Oxbotica, Siemens and Westbourne Communications embarked on a research project to explore what infrastructure experts and the public thought about autonomous vehicle technology. This was in recognition of the fact that driverless cars could only become a reality if the public is convinced of their benefits. Aiming to understand the perceptions of this rapidly advancing form of transport, the ‘PAVE’ (People in Autonomous Vehicles in Urban Environments) project saw several public exhibitions and surveys take place, as well as workshops with industry experts. Over 800 people were engaged face-to-face through exhibitions, street surveys and workshops and 500 feedback forms were collected.

The report, which was overseen by Westbourne Communications, concludes that most people feel that driverless cars will be the ‘norm’ at some stage between 2030 and 2050, although the majority of respondents (63%) felt there was also not enough information currently available. The majority (63% of respondents) felt positive towards the concept of driverless cars being on our roads, with men being significantly more positive (69%) than women (48%). People over 40 were also generally more positive than those under 40.

Other key findings were that most people (59%) thought that roads would be safer with driverless car technologies. There was, however, scepticism from many participants that a computer system could ever be fully prepared for the complexity of urban environments, and that it was unlikely that cars would ever be 100% driverless. Most people acknowledged the potential economic and environmental benefits of driverless cars, but the most popular benefit of the technology (71% positive) was that it could allow greater freedom for older or disabled people.

The project is now focused on preparing Culham Science Centre as a major test site for driverless cars, following several months of initial trials of the technology there. The 200-acre fenced site in Oxfordshire should now see many more autonomous vehicles drive along its roads as the new technology is further developed and tested.

Dr Rick Robinson, Amey’s Director of Technology, said: “Driverless, autonomous vehicles are gaining ground in becoming the alternative way to travel in the future. Working with PAVE and using our years of experience in innovative technology and highways infrastructure, we’re able to provide practical knowledge of how they would behave in the real world – as well as their impact on local communities and businesses, and traffic and transport infrastructure. It’s fantastic to take blueprints from the laboratory out into the real world.”

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