Driverless pods could be the solution for Oxford

Driverless ‘pods’ developed by Oxford University could be the solution to transportation issues in the city

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Oxbotica's prototype vehicle, Geni, testing autonomous capabilities along the Thames Path in Greenwich, London.

Driverless vehicles could form a central part of the future of transportation in Oxford, according to Jeremy Long, the chairman of Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP).

In an interview with the Oxford Times, Long said that connections with the university research departments and local car industry could provide a platform for Oxford to become leader in the field of autonomous vehicles.

Oxford Robotics Institute, a part of the Department of Engineering at the University, and its spin-out company Oxbotica, drive the development and commercialisation of autonomous technology. Oxbotica has already tested their software off-road and in different cities, such as Milton Keynes.

BMW, whose Mini plant is in Oxford, has also researched driverless vehicles. The vehicle manufacturing company has said it will start producing fully automated cars by 2021.

In the Oxford Times, Long highlighted the connection between the expertise in Oxford with the possibilities for development in the field of autonomous technology: “With the links we have here, we have got a cracking combination of expertise in the private sector and particularly in the university. We could be at the cutting edge of this.”

Previously in a report prepared for Oxford Civic Society, consultants for urbanism and design consultancy URBED suggested that tram system could be the solution to allow for more housing without increasing congestion in Oxford.

However Long claims that driverless ‘pods’ are a more viable option than trams because tram systems are expensive and usually require a dense population to be effective.

He said: “But I do think the pace of technological change is such that whereas one might have focused in the past on seeing trams as a solution for the capacity problems, it is possible there will be solutions which leapfrog that.”

In addition, Nigel Tipple, Chief Executive of OxLEP, commented to Cherwell: “The electric driverless pods are an excellent example of the revolutionary technological developments taking place within Oxfordshire. Students are, of course, among those living and working in Oxford who could benefit from this type of transport innovation; pods could bring cheaper, more efficient and economical travel, particularly around the city centre, and the introduction of such new technology would also mean we all benefit from living and working in a cleaner, greener, less congested city.”

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Ideally, these driverless ‘pods’ could reduce the number of private vehicles on the roads through letting people book point-to-point journeys on demand. In addition, technology would allow passengers link up with other vehicles for shared journeys.

The leader of the Oxford City Council, Bob Price, said that electric ‘pods’ “offer an exciting opportunity for the city centre area, reducing car and bus use and improving the air quality”.

Price told Cherwell: “As yet, the technology is its infancy, but there would be real value in pods to take people from the railway station to the new Westgate Centre and to other parts of the city. We will be seeking an early opportunity to apply Oxford science to Oxford city.”

Price said that the City Council actively works to link the universities, local authorities and the private sector in exploring the possibilities to improve the quality of life using digital technologies.