The UK government wants to see a 'cluster of excellence' along the London to Birmingham M40 motorway corridor – companies developing technology to support connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV).
Business secretary [minister] Greg Clark has launched the first competition to access funding from the government's GBP100 investment programme supporting the creation of test facilities for connected and autonomous vehicles today at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Connected Conference in London.
In his speech to an international audience of over 400 industry leaders from the automotive and technology sectors, he outlined plans to create the cluster along the M40 motorway.
The test bed programme forms part of the government's industrial strategy commitment in the 2016 autumn statement [budget] to develop world-class CAV testing infrastructure. The programme will use some of the UK's existing CAV testing centres to create a concentrated cluster of testing facilities in the UKs automotive heartland in the West Midlands, including; Coventry, Birmingham, Milton Keynes as well as Oxford and London.
By creating a coherent national cluster, government and industry will be able to rapidly accelerate the development of CAV technology in the UK, grow intellectual capital in this field, attract overseas investment and create a national ecosystem that covers all testing requirements for CAV technology from computer program design to on road testing.
The programme, which is being match funded by industry, to take the total spend up to GBP200m over four years, is being launched as a grant through a series of funding competitions. The first competition announced today will allow bids for an initial share of GBP55m of the test bed funding.
Clark said: "By 2035 the global market for connected and autonomous vehicle technologies is predicted to be worth GBP63bn. Our investment and collaboration with industry [will] build on our strengths and create a cluster of excellence that will ensure we are at the forefront of its development and perfectly positioned to lead and capitalise on this market.
He wants the UK to be "one of the world's 'go-to' destinations for testing driverless car technology, now and in the future".
The first phase of the competition will support a number of projects divided into four different streams covering a range of environments for testing connected autonomous vehicles including public test facilities in a complex, real-world urban or city environment; a controlled test environment representative of driving in a city; and a realistic and controlled high-speed, test environment.
The launch of the test bed funding competition follows a call for evidence by the Centre of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles in May 2016 into how the UK can integrate and strengthen its CAV testing facilities and to consider the case for a test bed to provide a focus for the industry.
Responses to the consultation, reflect broad support for coordinating the UK's existing testing facilities and for government funding to support this work.