Forget driverless cars, London is going to test automated pods as a public transportation option

A driverless vehicle initiative in London has just announced its first open public trials. The borough of Greenwich has become a test area for the GATEway Project, which will provide automated transportation to volunteer subjects in order to gauge public sentiment about the concept of driverless cars. The GATEway project is currently gearing up the pods that will autonomously shuttle humans around London without a driver in sight.

These types of pods are already being used at Heathrow Airport, so this testing phase is more about the environmental reaction to driverless pods than about the technology itself. At Heathrow, fully electric Ultra Pods run on tracks in order to transport travelers across the sprawling airport. The Transport Research Laboratory is working with Westfield Sportscars and Oxbotica, a branch of Oxford University’s Mobile Robotics Group, in order to get the Ultra Pods off their airport tracks and ready for the open road.

Greenwich is considered to be a perfect testing site for Ultra Pods as areas that are frequently used by pedestrians and cyclists are being targeted. Applicants who participate in the tests will be interviewed before and after their driverless journeys in order to determine whether or not the rides are a success from an experiential point of view.

“It gives the public a chance to experience what it’s like to ride in an automated vehicle and to make their own mind up as to how much they like it, trust it and could accept it as a service in the city,” said Nick Reed, director of Transport Research Laboratory.

Although research into the viability of driverless cars in the U.K. is being funded by the British government to the tune of 8 million pounds (about $11.5 million U.S.), the specifics of when the pods will launch in the real world are hazy. You can apply online to join the public trial phase in Greenwich, which is scheduled to take place later this year.

GATEway is also conducting surveys to account for the opinions of members of the public who can’t or don’t want to participate in physical trials. But as interest grows and successes mount, it’s likely that we’ll see more driverless cars and transport options taking root in the imagination of the United Kingdom, as they already have in the United States.

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