A new research programme by the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) at the University of Warwick (UK), and XPI Simulation, co-funded by Innovate UK (a UK government body), is examining the potential for applying the simulation technology used to train Formula 1 drivers for the testing and certification of autonomous vehicles.

The market for such vehicles is expected to reach GBP52 billion by 2035, according to government figures.

Warwick University says the new research could dramatically reduce the time to market, helping manufacturers to achieve the UK government's vision for self-driving vehicles to be operating on UK roads as early as 2021.

Several manufacturers are already testing their vehicles on public roads, with mixed results. One of the problems is the volume and repeatability of testing. Carrying out such testing on controlled tracks or on-road presents significant cost and safety challenges – as well as requiring huge amounts of mileage to be driven to gather evidence.

WMG, at the University of Warwick and XPI, a subsidiary of Thales UK, believe that simulation technology similar to that used to train motorsport drivers, could be used to test every function and response of self-driving vehicles under all conceivable conditions. If successful, it would be an important step towards gathering sufficient data to certify autonomous cars as safe to share the roads with ordinary traffic.

A key challenge with creating such a simulator would be ensuring that it represented the real world with a suitable level of accuracy – much like civil flight simulators today, which are certified before they can be used for formal pilot training. XPI, WMG and Thales will work to develop an understanding of the requirements of such a simulator – potentially enabling the development of common standards that enable the use of such software for autonomous vehicle certification.

Professor Paul Jennings of WMG said: "The introduction of safe, fully autonomous vehicles will bring enormous societal benefits and substantial economic opportunities. Partnerships between academia and industry, supported by the government, are the best way to overcome the many challenges ahead."

This latest round of funding brings the total UK government investment in the development of autonomous vehicles to GBP120 million, in a portfolio worth GBP180 million, which benefits industry and academia as well as the wider population.

About WMG

WMG is a research and education group and an academic department of the University of Warwick, established by Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya in 1980 in order to reinvigorate UK manufacturing through the application of 'cutting edge research and effective knowledge transfer'.