Tuesday 15 September 2015

Autonomous pod takes to the road

The first of three pod vehicles was unveiled in the UK today as part of a pioneering project to trial automated vehicles in pedestrianised areas.
The LUTZ Pathfinder is designed to work on footpaths and in pedestrianised areas without a driver. The vehicle is the first of its kind to be used in a community setting. However, it will not be fully autonomous from the outset but controlled by a driver. It will become increasingly more autonomous as the test phase unfolds and any teething problems are fixed

The electric-powered LUTZ Pathfinder pod was presented to commuters and other members of the public outside Milton Keynes Central train station.

Members of the Transport Systems Catapult (TSC) project team were on hand to answer questions from passers by.

TSC chief executive officer Steve Yianni claimed: “This is a very exciting day for everybody involved in the LUTZ Pathfinder project, because it signals the completion of the manufacturing phase and the effective start of the autonomous technology trial.

“When you consider that there wasn’t even a design in place for this vehicle less than 18 months ago, it has been a really quick turnaround to now have our first research vehicle ready to start work, and this has only been possible as a result of our successful collaboration with RDM, MRG and Milton Keynes Council,” he added.

The event marked the completion of the first project vehicle by Coventry-based manufacturer RDM Group. Afterwards, the two-seater pod was delivered to Oxford University’s Mobile Robotics Group (MRG) to begin the installation of the pod’s autonomous control system (ACS).

Following the installation work, the pod will undergo a series of calibration tests at a private test track before returning to Milton Keynes for the start of the public trials. At that stage, the pods will be the first fully automated vehicles to be trialled on public pedestrianised areas in the UK.

Once the ACS has been installed, the public trials will get underway in Milton Keynes, with the pods being driven initially in manual mode – allowing them to map and ‘learn’ their environment.

They will then begin to operate in autonomous mode, but with a trained operator still remaining in each pod, ready to take back control of the vehicle if necessary.

The pods will have a maximum capable speed of 15 mile/h (24km/h) but will be limited electronically depending upon the environment they are travelling in (for example, moving more slowly in congested areas).

“Safety has been our paramount concern throughout the planning process, which is why we will continue to have a human operator at the wheel for the duration of the trial,” said Yianni.

Yianni added: “But the LUTZ Pathfinder project is an important first step towards a future where self-driving vehicles can be called up on demand, as and when people need them.”

David Keene, RDM Group CEO said: “Today represents an exciting stage for the LUTZ Pathfinder project and is a key milestone for RDM. We continue to develop our autonomous pod platform which has worldwide applications within many transportation sectors. The project is enabling the autonomous vehicle to be tested and evaluated in its intended environment”

Professor Paul Newman of Oxford’s MRG said: “We are now very much looking forward to further developing, deploying and then testing our ‘Mercury’ autonomy system on this vehicle. This is an important and exciting stage in this project which will then enable us to test the technology’s potential in the public trials.”

Findings from the LUTZ Pathfinder project will also be used to support the larger-scale UK Autodrive programme which is set to trial a fleet of 40 self-driving pods, as well as “regular” road-based cars, in Milton Keynes and Coventry.

                              No newcomer to automotive

RDM Group is no newcomer to the automotive business. Situated on the Binley Industrial Estate in Coventry, RDM Group a wholly owned business, which operates throughout the UK, Europe and North America.  It has been in business over 20 years.

In addition to its Coventry office in the heart of the UK, it has recently invested £400,000 into a new advanced engineering centre.  This dedicated facility supports ambitious new vehicle builds and cutting edge development work on a host of automotive components.

There are three divisions within the RDM Group: RDM Autonomous Vehicles for the design & manufacturing of driver / driverless pods; RDM Automotive for manufacturing and fulfilment; and RDM Advanced Engineering for design, development and prototyping.

As a specialist in prototype work, its activities seldom come into the spotlight. However, some two years ago RDM helped JaguarLandRover (JLR) develop and build seven electric Defender research vehicles.

RDM Group worked with CAD engineers from the thriving car manufacturer to transform initial concept designs into an all-terrain vehicle that produces zero emissions. This included providing mechanical installation solutions, main battery installation development and data logging technology so vehicle information can be accessed remotely.

RDM has a long-standing relationship with JLR, another business with activities in Coventry. It was approached by JLR’s project leader to see if it would be interested in converting the vehicles.

It was a concept that really excited RDM and one that well suited its automotive expertise, with much emphasis on technical content and its ability to meet stringent delivery deadlines.” He went on to add: “

In the vehicle, the regular diesel engine was substituted for a 70kw electric motor capable of 243 lbft of torque and powered by a 300V lithium-ion battery

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