£40m new funding for self-driving commercial vehicle development

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The Government has launched a new competition to help kick-start the use of self-driving commercial vehicles across the bus and delivery van sectors which it says will create 38,000 new skilled jobs

On 23 May, the UK Government launched a new £40m competition to kick-start the production and use of self-driving commercial vehicles including buses, passenger shuttles and delivery vans. The funds will help accelerate a new market for the technology, which could be worth £42 billion to the UK economy by 2035 and create 38,000 new skilled jobs.

Launched by Minister for Investment Lord Grimstone, the Government believes the funding could create tens of thousands of skilled jobs across the UK over the next decade and includes £1.5 million of funding for feasibility studies into real life schemes using self-driving vehicles on guided routes as a potential alternative to traditional bus routes or railways.

The ‘Commercialising Connected and Automated Mobility’ competition will provide grants to help roll out commercial use self-driving vehicles across the UK from 2025, which the Government says will deliver convenience for consumers and make journeys safer, greener and more reliable. The competition is intended to help bring together companies and investors so that sustainable business models can be rolled out nationally and exported globally.

Types of self-driving vehicles that could be deployed include delivery vans, buses, shuttles and pods, as well as vehicles that move people and luggage at airports and containers at shipping ports. Lord Grimstone said: “Self-driving vehicles have the potential to revolutionise people’s lives, whether its by helping to better connect people who rely on public transport with jobs, local shops, and vital services, or by making it easier for those who have mobility issues to order and access services conveniently. This funding will help unlock the incredible potential of this new and growing industry, building on the continued development of self-driving technology, attracting investment and helping make our transport cleaner, safer and more efficient.”

Transport Minister Trudy Harrison said: “We know that self-driving vehicles have the potential to revolutionise the way we travel, making our future journeys cleaner, easier and more reliable. But our absolute priority is harnessing the technology to improve road safety. With around 88% of road collisions currently caused by human error, this funding will drive the introduction of new technology to improve travel for all, while boosting economic growth and highly skilled jobs across the nation. The competition will cement the UK’s reputation as a global leader in self-driving vehicle technology, unlocking a new industry that could be worth £42 billion to the UK economy by 2035, potentially creating 38,000 new skilled jobs.”

£1.5 million of the funding will be used to study and explore using self-driving vehicles as a means of public transport that could provide an alternative to existing mass transit systems. This includes ideas such as using self-driving vehicles on routes separated from other traffic that could be cheaper and more flexible than new railway lines.

The Government is continuing to develop a comprehensive legal and assurance framework for self-driving vehicles to ensure the safety of the technology. It announced a Transport Bill in the recent Queen’s Speech that will introduce comprehensive legislation for self-driving vehicles to enable safe and responsible deployment.

The first vehicles to be listed as self-driving in the UK – vehicles approved under the Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) regulation – could be available for people to purchase, lease or rent later this year. Vehicles will undergo rigorous testing and will only be permitted to drive themselves when they have met stringent standards.

The Government said that work it has already undertaken alongside its partners has already ensured that the UK has a proven track record in leading connected and self-driving vehicle innovation, enabling joint public and private investment of £440 million.

Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Chief Executive Mike Hawes commented: Self-driving vehicles offer major benefits to society – improving road safety, supporting new jobs and economic growth, and enabling greater mobility for everyone – so the UK is rightly seeking to be at the forefront of this technological evolution. Recent regulatory reforms have helped Britain establish itself as a leader in the rollout out of self-driving passenger vehicles, and today’s announcement is a significant step towards self-driving public transport and goods delivery services becoming a reality. This new funding competition will help drive innovation and, potentially, private investment in UK automotive, ensuring cutting-edge self-driving technology finds a clearer path to UK roads.”

The competition is being run by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), a joint Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Department for Transport (DfT) unit established in 2015, and working with industry and academia to shape the safe and secure emergence of connected and self-driving vehicles in the UK in line with the Government’s Future of Transport strategy.

Funding will help develop the technology for buses, delivery vans and shuttles such as the Aurrigo AutoShuttle. AURRIGO