Science Vale to host the UK’s first public road trial of autonomous vehicles in sustainable transport drive

Greener commutes using autonomous vehicles (AVs) are just around the next corner, after the government announced new funding for the first UK AV trials on public roads at Science Vale in southern Oxfordshire.

Led by UK transport operator FirstGroup, a consortium of eight organisations, who are investing in the development of AVs, was awarded £2.5 million from Innovate UK last month, as part of the latest round of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) competitive funding.

Known as MultiCAV, the 30-month project aims to ultimately establish a new ‘Mobility as a Service’ (MaaS) travel system using AVs for everyday journeys.  This would bring together taxis, buses and on-road shuttle vehicles to help link journeys from existing transport networks such as railway and bus stations to business parks.

Being in Science Vale, the consortium is well-placed to leverage world-class expertise from the high concentration of AV and robotic related companies already based there.  This includes Oxbotica, who is leading the DRIVEN consortium testing a fleet of AVs being deployed in urban areas and on motorways.  There’s also the Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (RACE) facilities at the Culham Science Centre, with its world-class test bed facility for autonomous systems.  RACE is currently testing the safety and speed of AVs as part of the MERIDIAN driverless vehicle programme.

MultiCAV will run the first AV trials on public roads in the UK, at Milton Park in Science Vale.  By the end of the project, it aims to have halved private car usage within the business park as commuters switch to using shared, electric-powered pods.

Sustainable travel is already underway at Science Vale following a 12-month green travel campaign at Milton Park last year. Led by MEPC, the manager and developer of Milton Park and transport consultancy, Vectos, the green travel plan encouraged commuters to explore other forms of travel over using their private car to get to work.  This resulted in a four per cent reduction in people travelling alone in their vehicles, which equates to 200 less cars a day.

The travel plan used new initiatives to encourage people to leave their car at home for one or two days a week.  As a result, cycling increased by five per cent by offering free bike loans and the upgraded ‘Liftshare’ car share system saw a fourteen per cent increase as the membership grew from 74 to 563 people.  Alongside this, extra electric car charging points were installed, an annual ‘Car Free Day’ introduced and the Milton Park Travel Forum created to keep up the momentum for sustainable commuting.

With the government committed to having fully autonomous vehicles on UK roads by 2021, Didcot Garden Town and the business parks in Science Vale are already leading the way with this first ever public road test and will likely emerge as early adopters of these new sustainable transport systems.  With Science Vale taking a lead on AV technology and research work, seeing self-drive vehicles on Oxfordshire roads may soon be the new norm.