Autonomous pods navigating the narrow, congested streets of London may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but it’s actually something we could see quite soon.
The Gateway project, a research project taking place in the UK, plans to deploy autonomous pods in London. The first vehicles will be tested this spring in Greenwich, along the banks of the Thames.
The director of the project, Nick Reed, has confirmed that the vehicles in question will be small, six-person passenger pods that will be borrowed from Heathrow airport.
The Royal College of Art will be assisting in giving the pods a much needed makeover. First however, the pods must be modified to have free range, as currently they run on rails from parking facilities to the terminal.
The pods will be able to do all the standard driving functions, but in a limited regime. Think of it as something like a driverless Uber, Reed said.
Hailing a pod won’t be any different to how lot of us get taxis, passengers will be able to use an app on their smartphone to call the pod and enter their destination. The vehicles will use GPS to find the optimal route to the destination.
The pods will still be able to accommodate six passengers and luggage, they’ll even have room for a wheelchair, Reed said.
The tests, which will begin in spring, will run on a 2.2 mile route and will stop at an Intercontinental Hotel and a subway station.
There must be a “steward” on board at all times to monitor the vehicle, according to British law. The pods will have an emergency stop button and a top speed of 13 miles per hour.
The test area in Greenwich is quite an open area and not very congested. If the tests are successful, a steward may no longer be required and the vehicles could serve more congested areas.
In my opinion the real tests for these pods will come in winter, when the snow starts to fall.