Last September 15, 2015 the city of Milton Keynes in UK was witness to one of the world’s technological breakthrough in the area of public transportation. The electric-powered and pavement driving LUTZ (Low-Carbon Urban Transport Zone) Pathfinder pod, launched and developed by UK’s Transport Systems Catapult, ran the streets of Milton at a maximum speed of 24 kph with virtually no human intervention. To ensure absolute safety during its trial run, trained operators are seated inside the two-seater pod in the event that they need to take control. The LUTZ Pathfinder aims to be the next big thing in the future of transport, and it brings with it a hopeful era of faster and safer mode of travel.
After its first successful run, it is expected that further public trials will commence with 40 additional cars gradually added in other UK cities. Sophie Curtis of telegraph.co.uk reports that the driverless car sector is currently growing at 16pc a year and is estimated to be worth US$132 billion a year globally by 2025. Such growth dictates the necessity of ensuring the road trustworthiness of autonomous vehicles such as the LUTZ, and to guarantee the safety of its passengers and pedestrians. In response to this, UK announced the world’s first code of practice allowing Britain to test driverless cars, the M1 vehicles in four towns and cities including Greenwich in south-east London, Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes.
A code of practice has been developed by the Department for Transport in consultation with the government-backed UK Autodrive Consortium. The code tackles safety measures and legal matters in case an accident occurs. Autodrive will undertake acceptance surveys to gauge public opinion around driverless technologies; including its effect on reducing incidents and congestion. These shall be monitored over the span of three years of the project.
The UK government added impetus to this project through its Spring Budget, providing US$147 million dollars into its research and development including additional systems that it may require such as telecoms, over the next 5 years. According to Pete Marland, leader of the Milton Keynes Council, “It is fantastic that Milton Keynes is at the forefront of this global technology race, and seeing them on the streets will be amazing. Our aim is to show that they can work as a means of public transport, with people being able to use their smartphones to order a pod. Having the pods here today is one step closer to having them as part of everyday life in Milton Keynes.”
The LUTZ Pathfinder is equipped with a wide range of sensors, including stereo cameras, laser scanners, radar-based obstacle detectors and powerful computers to quickly process information about its environment based on a predefined map of where it will be operated. Though GPS may play a role in the LUTZ’s mobility, it will not be used as a primary source of controlling the pod’s movement. The LUTZ is designed and manufactured by RDM Autonomous Vehicles in partnership with Oxford University’s Mobile Robotics Group. Watch the video below and see how these futuristic pods will work on the streets of Britain.