Solihull leads the way in driverless technology



Solihull has become one of the first places in the UK to see driverless vehicles take to its roads as part of new ground-breaking passenger trials. 

Part of the wider UK Central investment programme being funded by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), the trial has been launched to test out how Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) might be integrated into the borough’s transport network in the future.

Securing funds from the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP), Solihull Council has become the first local authority in the country to purchase its very own fully electric autonomous shuttle from Coventry-based Aurrigo, which it will initially be trialling at the NEC over the next four weeks.

Solihull leads the way in driverless technology

From left: Councillor Ken Hawkins, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Environment & Infrastructure at Solihull Council, Gary Masters, NEC Campus General Manager, Chris Lane, Head of Transport Innovation at TfWM and Ewa Truchanowicz, GBSLEP Board Director

The shuttle can carry up to eight passengers and uses a suite of sensors to understand its surroundings, allowing it to move around safely, interacting with live traffic with little or no operator input. For the purposes of the trial, in line with current UK legislation, a safety operator will be on-board at all times, who will have the ability to take control of the shuttle if required.

The trial at the NEC will see the shuttle operate autonomously along a one mile pre-mapped section of Pendigo Way between Hall 5 and Resorts World.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA, said: “The region is at the cutting edge of the development of CAV technology and this real world trial offers an excellent opportunity to understand the role autonomous vehicles can play in our transport system.

“This technology has the potential to change the way we travel and will no doubt become a key part of our future transport system. On top of that, this emerging high-value sector in research and manufacturing is already playing an increasingly important role in the Green Industrial Revolution happening right here in the West Midlands.”

Those behind the project are encouraging anyone who wants to take part and experience one of the first fully self-driving shuttles in the UK to book a free ride. You can check availability and book your ride here.

The success of this initial trial will provide knowledge and experience of self-driving vehicles in a real-world environment, meaning they could be rolled-out elsewhere in Solihull in the future.

Cllr Ken Hawkins, cabinet portfolio holder for environment & infrastructure, said: “CAV technology has the potential revolutionise the way we get around our towns, cities and rural areas as well as transport goods. This trial is all about looking at how we can practically and safely start to incorporate autonomous vehicles into our future transport infrastructure. Already one of the best connected destinations in the UK and Europe, the NEC is the perfect place to trial our shuttle and look at how it can be used to improve the first and last mile passenger experience.

“Alongside the obvious environmental benefits, this is an excellent example of how smart technology could be used to cut congestion and improve public transport.

“The results of our trials will provide learning on future mobility services and highway infrastructure design across all future development sites within Solihull and the wider region, including integration with the HS2 Interchange at Arden Cross.”

Ewa Truchanowicz, Board Director, Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP), said: “It’s fantastic to see the fully electric autonomous vehicle operating at the NEC. We allocated £250,000 from our Local Growth Fund into this Solihull Council-led trial as we recognise the huge potential for Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs).

"This is one element of our wider GBSLEP vision to deliver clean growth across our region. By reducing CO2 emissions and reducing congestion through shared occupancy, CAVs will have an impact on the way we all travel in the future. I would encourage people to take part and experience one of the first fully self-driving shuttles in the UK.”

The WMCA funded UK Central investment programme is delivering a wide range of projects, from walking and cycling improvement schemes through to town centre redevelopment and builds on the establishment of the Midlands Future Mobility testbed.

The project is inviting organisations from around the Solihull area to make contact if they are interested in learning more about the technology and potentially host a trial themselves at some point over the coming 18 months. Further information is available at www.solihull.gov.uk/CAVTrials.

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