The West Midlands is one of just seven regions worldwide taking part in a new pilot scheme to teach self-driving cars the rules of the road.
Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) currently rely on third-party datasets, computer vision, onboard sensors and machine learning to react to traffic restrictions such as stop signs, speed limits and pedestrian crossings.
Much like with humans, this ‘seeing’ technology is imperfect – it relies on the CAV to pick up on road signs and markings, and mistakes can happen if signs are obscured or markings have faded.
Using a new platform called the INRIX AV Road Rules, transport organisations can digitally upload local road information to a central database, with information then beamed directly to autonomous vehicles on the road.
Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), has signed up to the pilot, which will run alongside real-time CAV testing on selected roads in Birmingham, Coventry and Solihull.
Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, said: “We’re one of only two UK transport authorities to trial this exciting new technology, along with Transport Scotland.
“Computers are very good at following orders, so it makes absolute sense to have accurate road data available to the vehicles themselves. In effect, we’re coding highways into them, rather than just teaching them the Highway Code.”
Cllr Roger Lawrence, leader of the City of Wolverhampton Council and transport portfolio holder for WMCA, said: “The West Midlands is already taking the lead when it comes to testing and trialling technology for self-driving vehicles.
“This pilot will provide vital information about our local roads that can be read and understood by autonomous vehicles to improve their performance and safety.
“We’re delighted to be one of the first two UK transport authorities engaged in this pilot.”
Jaguar Land Rover is currently participating in the live testing on connected cars in the West Midlands as part of the UK CITE project to create the country’s first fully-connected infrastructure.
Chris Holmes, connected and autonomous vehicle research senior manager at Jaguar Land Rover, said: “Road conditions and layouts can vary drastically over a matter of miles and so it is vital that self-driving is facilitated collaboratively. INRIX AV Road Rules provides improved information to the car, ensuring our self-driving technology is safe, sophisticated and capable of dealing with challenging real-world environments.”
The INRIX AV Road Rules platform allows transport authorities to log in and digitise information on local restrictions. INRIX says it will then be easy to make changes, upload new information, such as roadworks or construction schemes, and monitor the performance of the road network.
Avery Ash, INRIX Head of Autonomous Mobility, explained: “Automated vehicles are coming to public roads, which puts us at a critical juncture to ensure they are safe, efficient and can effectively navigate complex traffic environments.
“For more than a decade, INRIX has worked with public agencies and vehicle operators around the world to manage and improve transportation. INRIX AV Road Rules lays the groundwork for a 21st century, global smart transportation network, which includes the safe operation of highly autonomous vehicles.”
As well as TfWM and Transport Scotland, five American road authorities will take part in the trial: Boston, Austin, Cambridge, Portland and Southern Nevada. Four vehicle manufacturers are also involved – Jaguar Land Rover, May Mobility, nuTonomy and vehicle operators running Renovo’s Aware programme.