Blog: Chris WrightLondon's 'linear laboratory' for smart car technologies

Chris Wright | 19 August 2015

I have recently met a man with what you might describe as a bit of a job on his hands. Leon Daniels, managing director of surface transport at Transport for London (TfL) is the man in charge of keeping London moving, be it cars, trains, buses, cycles, people, not only now but in the future.

Over the next 15 years, the population is expected to grow the equivalent of two other major UK cities, Birmingham and Leeds. Currently it stands at 8.3m and is well on the way to 10m - mega city status. Is autonomy of cars and trains the way forward? A little more than a century ago, he points out, there were autonomous vehicles on the road, they were called horses. A somewhat wild analogy but the point he was making is that he believes a move to autonomous vehicles will be more evolutionary rather than an overnight revolution.

He said: "The perception many people have is small, autonomous pods but there will be a more gradual approach, which we are already seeing with technology such as forward radar, collision avoidance and park assist. The thing is, London is plugged into the rest of Europe, the US and Japan in terms of how the technology moves forward."

In line with the UK government's vision of being a world leader in the development of autonomous technologies, Daniels said London, or specifically TfL is playing its part. It is in the process of "wiring" up the major A2 road leading in and out of London to the busy coastal port of Dover, the major hub for cross-channel freight and passenger links to Europe.

Daniels said: "What we are creating is a linear laboratory, wired up so that vehicle manufacturers and communications companies can use it to test technologies that allow cars to talk to each other and to the infrastructure around them. We chose this road because of its importance as well as the fact that it is heavily used by heavy goods vehicles, buses and cars."

Before autonomous cars, we are much more likely to see driverless trains on London's underground and overground systems - in fact that have been in existence since 1968 when they came into service on the Victoria Line. They still have drivers sitting up front but their only job is to push a button to set it off from the platform.

The rest of the journey, including the distance it keeps from the train in front, to stopping and opening the doors at the next platform, is all fully automatic. Now a new first is looming, they will become the first autonomous trains to be replaced by new, automatic rolling stock in around 2024-25.

What is more, they allow increased frequency on the Victoria Line, 36 trains an hour, up from a maximum of 30 on other lines, limited only by how quickly the platform can be cleared of passengers from the train in front. Better capacity utilisation on rail and roads holds out the promise of reduced congestion. London's A2 linear laboratory is a step in the right direction for smart car systems testing. What's not to like?  




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