Cambridge is among the first smart cities in the UK to trial autonomous vehicles – investigating the feasibility of the technology being used as part of a public transport service in the future.

Self-driving shuttles that are set to transform the way people travel took to the roads for ground-breaking passenger trials in Cambridge for the month of June 2021.

The first Aurrigo autonomous shuttle arrived in Cambridge at the end of October 2020. In April 2021, the team were able to return to the site after lockdown and the first shuttle started its engineering trial – mapping a route from the Park & Ride around the University of Cambridge’s West Cambridge campus.

A second shuttle arrived in May 2021 and was joined by a third at the start of June 2021 when interested passengers were invited on board to take a trial journey on one of the vehicles.

Transport minister Rachel Maclean MP was among the first passengers to board the Aurrigo shuttle as it embarked on a fully autonomous journey around the University of Cambridge’s West Cambridge campus on Thursday 27 May 2021.

The trial is part of a government-funded project led by the Greater Cambridge Partnership, Smart Cambridge and engineering firm Aurrigo Driverless Technology to look at how autonomous technology could be used on the public transport network.

Find out more about the background to this project further down the page and watch our video to find out more:

FAQs

  • What is an autonomous shuttle?

    An autonomous shuttle (also known as a self-driving or driverless vehicle), is a vehicle that uses a range of sensors to understand its surroundings – allowing it to move around safely with little or no operator input. For our trial there will always be a safety operator onboard.

  • Who was running the trials?

    The autonomous shuttle trial, running until the end of June 2021, was a collaboration between the Greater Cambridge Partnership, the Smart Cambridge team and Coventry-based engineering firm Aurrigo Driverless Technology who designed and built the shuttles.

  • How long did the trial last?

    Shuttles were trialled on the University of Cambridge West Cambridge site off Madingley Road from April 2021 until the end of June 2021.

  • Who went on board?

    We started with engineering trials which involved mapping the route.

    When the route was fully mapped, we invited interested passengers to book a place on board via an Eventbrite booking page.

  • How was this trial funded?

    The total project budget was £3.2m and was funded by a £2.45m grant from InnovateUK and £0.75m of investment from Aurrigo.

  • How are the shuttles powered?

    The shuttles are fully electric and will have a range of 100 miles. The vehicles are charged at the end of each day.

  • How fast do they go?

    The shuttles are capable of operating up to 20mph, obeying the maximum speed limit on the West Cambridge site at all times.

  • Why was there a driver on board?

    Two safety operators were on board at all times during the trials.

    Although the safety operator has the ability to take control of the shuttle in an emergency, they were not operating the shuttle on the majority of the route. The route was pre-mapped so the vehicle was aware of its environment – this meant it had the ability to stop itself in an emergency or if there was an unexpected hazard in the road.

    The goal for this technology is to remove the need for a safety operator within the vehicle in the future, instead allowing them to be remotely monitored using CCTV from a control room.

  • What will happen after the trial?

    If the trials are successful and a commercial service provider comes forward, self-driving vehicles could then be rolled-out around Greater Cambridge and the service provider would then determine the pricing and ticket-booking structure.

  • How do the shuttles sense pedestrians and cyclists?

    The shuttles are aware of their environment via their many sensors – this means a shuttle will have the ability to stop itself in an emergency or if there is an unexpected hazard in the road. There was also a safety operator on-board at all times who was able to take full control of the vehicle at any time.

Background to the project

In February 2018, a consortium made up of Coventry-based engineering firm Aurrigo Driverless Technology (the autonomous vehicle division of RDM Group) and Smart Cambridge, a workstream of the Greater Cambridge Partnership, was awarded £3.2milllion of Government funding from the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), and Innovate UK, the Government’s innovation agency, to develop trial vehicles.

Aurrigo was tasked with developing a number of self-driving shuttles which could potentially be trialled on a southern section of the existing Guided Busway, when ordinary buses weren’t running. The initial out-of-hours trial service was planned to run between the Trumpington Park & Ride site and Cambridge Railway Station via the Cambridge Biomedical Campus site.

Autonomous Shuttle at the University of Cambridge’s West Cambridge site

Following COVID-19 disruptions, the project been refocused away from the Busway and onto the University’s West Cambridge site – where no modifications to the vehicle or built environment will be needed to run the trial.

The success of these trials will provide knowledge and experience of self-driving vehicles in a real-world environment, meaning that they could be rolled-out elsewhere around Greater Cambridge in the future, for example, to link some of the science and business campuses to each other or to rural travel hubs.


Further reading

To help shape the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) public transport strategy over a 10-year period, a report was prepared in April 2020 for the GCP by Professor John Miles of the University of Cambridge Department of Engineering.

The purpose of the work was to take a forward look at the opportunities and barriers related to the use of connected, autonomous, vehicles within the public transport system for Greater Cambridge. The work took note of the changes in public perception, regulatory environment, and commercial models which are now beginning to evolve. Read or download the report.