First UK driverless car project celebrates its successful three-year run with the release of new research findings

As it draws to a close, the VENTURER consortium has today held a showcase event to celebrate the achievements of its innovative £5-million research and development project, exploring the future of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) in the UK.

At the event, to mark the uniquely collaborative nature of the project, the VENTURER consortium, led by ITS (UK) members Atkins – SNC Lavalin exclusively launched its latest reports focused on the impact the integration of CAV technology onto the road network will have on the road user. They explore:

  • levels of user trust in scenarios where a CAV is interacting with cyclists, pedestrians and other road users on a controlled road network
  • the legal and insurance environment, with recommendations for policy makers and regulators to ensure that the user and public safety is at the centre of all future planning.

Automotive Minister Richard Harrington said: “The VENTURER project brings us closer to seeing self-driving cars on UK roads. The consortium’s unique research offers crucial user-insight into connected and autonomous vehicle technology and exemplifies the pioneering role the UK has in bringing this technology to market.

“The development and deployment of self-driving cars is central to our modern Industrial Strategy, and we are committed to seeing fully autonomous vehicles on UK roads by 2021.”

Over the last three years, a rich consortium made up of the private and public sectors, and academia, has worked together to conduct a series of trials and studies which consistently had the user at their heart.

Carolyn Mitchell, VENTURER Project Manager said: “Uniquely, VENTURER understood that to be inclusive, the user, the technology and the regulatory environment had to be considered alongside one another and that anything else would fail to provide us with a clear roadmap for the future.”

The last of the user and technology trials, Trial 3 delivers vital insights into the attitude of the public towards the integration of CAV technology. Its main findings are:

  • There are high user trust levels in both the Wildcat road vehicle and simulator, with no significant difference overall between the two, highlighting the value of this dual approach for future research
  • The high scores are likely, in part, to reflect the high and obvious priority given to safety in the trial environment
  • Trust ratings are similar, regardless of whether the observer mainly travels by car in everyday life, or regularly cycles or walks. However, trial trust scores for most of the events are significantly higher when given by people who reported a high level of trust in technology generally
  • The research suggests that the public is very willing to trust new technologies in practice. Given that CAVs may have a period during adoption in which they have varying capabilities, they may behave differently to human-driven vehicles, or in unexpected ways. This finding therefore supports the view that CAVs need to be clearly identifiable to other road users when operating in autonomous mode.

Graham Parkhurst, Director, Centre for Transport and Society at the University of the West of England, said: “The trial shows that passengers and observers give high trust ratings to automated vehicles in environments in which safety is judged to be carefully managed, and vehicle manoeuvres are normal compared with experiences on the real road network. But as soon as something slightly out-of-the-expected occurs, the public is very quick to reflect that in lower trust ratings.

“Moving forward, as confidence in the technology grows, we need to gradually and carefully plan phased trials which test CAVs in conditions ever more reflective of public roads.”

The findings of the Year 3 Legal and Insurance report similarly focus on what CAV users and the public will expect from insurance and regulatory frameworks underpinning the eventual deployment of automated vehicles. Based on the analysis of several collision scenarios, its recommendations include:

  • Government, industry and insurers should work together to ensure and promote consumer awareness and protection
  • Government and industry need to work together to:
    • review and as necessary reform the current safety regulation and investigation framework for highways
    • develop performance, safety and testing methodology and standards applicable to CAV software
  • Industry should ensure that user safety and experience is built into automated vehicles by design
  • There needs to be more study and research, building on VENTURER, to understand better the limits and characteristics of ‘safe’ handover and to demonstrate the safety of handover protocols. These should form part of the safety case and standards for the approval of CAV technology.

Chris Jackson, head of the Transport sector group at Burges Salmon, said: “Legal and insurance frameworks are a key enabler for the development and deployment of market-ready CAVs. Placing user and public certainty, experience and safety at the heart of legal and insurance reforms is essential to building user trust and acceptance. It is only by continuing to demonstrate this commitment at each stage of the development process that driverless vehicles will be able to fulfil their potential to deliver safer and more efficient transport at scale.”

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