The announcement this morning that O2 has opened a “lab” for connected and autonomous vehicles at Harwell in Oxfordshire is surely welcome news for UK Plc, and along with AV testbeds at Millbrook, Culham and SMLL adds to the UK’s capacity to test autonomous technologies in controlled environments. I’m proud to say that all of these sites now have StreetDrone autonomous vehicles in place!
The O2 testbed is different from others out there as its focus is on communications (naturally for a telecoms provider) rather than the self-driving part of the technology stack. This means that companies can go to Harwell and experiment with how connectivity, specifically 4G and satellite connectivity, will work in a world where cars drive themselves.
The vehicles at the “Darwin SatCom Lab” are both StreetDrone Twizys and run a validated version of Project Aslan software for the self-driving capability. The vehicle control system is StreetDrone XCU drive-by-wire with our vehicle interface software in place to interpret the signals from the compute / AI and enable the drive-by-wire to “drive” the vehicle.
The Darwin labs team have added some pretty impressive comms hardware and software to the vehicles and we’ve had a chance to play with that in the past few weeks. Whilst I’m not sure that the cars are ready for “control from the lab” as claimed in the press release, it is true that we need a greater understanding of the role of different communications protocols whilst we are developing the systems needed to make autonomy safe for the road.
O2’s announcement is hot on the heels of the (virtual) launch yesterday of another mobility testbed, SMLL (Smart Mobility Living Lab), based in the south of London. Again we have 2 cars on this testbed, both StreetDrone eNV200’s, which we ran using Autoware open-source software during a trial on streets within the testbed last November. SMLL’s lab is hugely impressive, and the result of 2 years of government investment in vehicles, simulation capability and infrastructure.
The UK really is well placed from a connected and autonomous vehicle testing perspective, and we’re looking forward to providing our technology so that more companies can achieve their autonomous ambitions.