Latest news: Building on work that Connecting Cambridgeshire’s Smart team has undertaken to support the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) and its research into autonomous vehicles, the GCP successfully submitted two bids to Government for funding to run a larger-scale trial and a feasibility study – both starting early 2023.

What are autonomous vehicles?

Autonomous vehicles, also known as self-driving or driverless vehicles, are vehicles capable of navigating and driving themselves without the need for a human driver. They use a combination of sensors, cameras, and artificial intelligence (AI) to detect their surroundings and make decisions about where to go and how to avoid obstacles.

There is a lot of interest in autonomous vehicles, and many experts believe that they have the potential to revolutionise transportation in the future.

Why the GCP is exploring autonomous vehicle technologies

The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) is using City Deal funding to tackle current and future transport problems by delivering multiple projects across the Greater Cambridge area to create a world-class future network for public transport, walking and cycling. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) could play a role in this future network as they have several advantages over traditional services, these include:

  • Expanded services: The use of autonomous vehicles expands the hours of operations for public transport systems, running on-demand services out of hours when traditional buses may not operate.
  • Improved first and last mile transport: Autonomous vehicles offer a cost-effective solution to closing the first/last mile gap, by bringing bus stops closer to places of work and homes by offering a frequent autonomous vehicle service to the nearby bus stop. These last mile services could support increased ridership on the main transit systems and reduce congestion.
  • Better accessibility for travellers with disabilities: Some services could be optimised by autonomous vehicles. On-demand autonomous buses could provide a door-to-door service for passengers with disabilities. Any savings from not having a driver could be diverted into support staff to help with entering and exiting the vehicle. This could offer significant benefits for travellers with disabilities who are currently unable to drive or access public transport.
  • Reduced operations costs: Using autonomous vehicles in transit operations has the potential to reduce both costs and human error. This risk reduction helps lower insurance and liability costs, as well as reduce staff overheads. As a result of the networked and monitored nature of autonomous vehicles, mechanical issues can also be discovered and addressed immediately, instead of being identified after a part or system fails Autonomous vehicles will be electric which could generate savings and reduce emissions. This means that in the future autonomous vehicles could potentially operate in rural locations where it is currently challenging to run economically viable commercial services.
  • Helping to address driver shortages: Operators are facing significant issues in recruiting and retaining drivers. Autonomous vehicles help to reduce this issue in the future by removing the need for an operator in every vehicle in a fleet.

How has the GCP been exploring autonomous vehicles?

The GCP has funded a number of pieces of work using funding from the Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and industry-matched funding by collaborating with a number of companies. This work has been informed by an initial study looking at how autonomous vehicles could be used in Cambridge and an Autonomous Vehicle Strategy. Both were developed in partnership with the University of Cambridge.

Autonomous vehicle projects timeline
2016 – Initial study: Cambridge Autonomous Vehicle Study
2017 – CCAV 2: Cambridge Autonomous Bus Project Report
2018 – AV strategy: Autonomous Vehicle Strategy for the GCP
2018 – CCAV 3: Autonomous Shuttle Trial 2021
2023 – CCAV 5: Connected and Automated Mobility: Mass Transit and Deployment