World’s first autonomous vehicle wind tunnel test carried out in UK

By 1st September 2016News

The first ever wind tunnel test on an autonomous vehicle has been carried out in the UK. The test, conducted by Westfield Sportscars Ltd. and supported by the Niche Vehicle Network, sought to improve the aerodynamic efficiency and confirm safety of automated shuttles, ahead of driverless trials in London.

The wind tunnel test was carried out as part of the GATEway driverless car project taking place in the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. The project, which is led by TRL (the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory), will see trials of fully electric and fully automated shuttles operating in Greenwich, with trials scheduled to commence in 2017.

The autonomous vehicle – a fully electric, driverless shuttle – was tested at three times its normal operating parameters, with the vehicle put through a series of tests, including door operation at different wind speeds and vehicle angles, airflow near battery compartments, air flow underneath the vehicle and also component and sensor wind tests. Data gathered from the tests has been used by Westfield Sportscars and the GATEway project team to improve aerodynamics for the shuttle vehicles and enable the vehicle to operate safely in a variety of different global environments and conditions.

The tests form an important part of the safety case for the shuttles, which are currently undergoing final development and safety testing by GATEway project partners. Results not only ensure the trials are conducted safely, but will inform the ongoing development and implementation of autonomous vehicles in the UK and globally.

Julian Turner, the CEO of Westfield Sportscars Ltd and Programme Director for the build of the GATEway shuttles commented: “The wind tunnel test marks a significant milestone in the path towards fully automated vehicles. Information from the tests will help ensure the vehicles, the environment and the conditions the shuttles will be operating in are safe. It also enables us to set a benchmark for aerodynamic development and validation testing, speeding up the delivery and approval of automated vehicles in the UK.”

Professor Nick Reed, Director at TRL and Technical Lead of the GATEway Project added: “The primary aim of the GATEway project is to understand how the public learn to trust and accept automated vehicles within urban environments. However, one of the biggest barriers to acceptance is safety. The wind tunnel test provides confirmation that the GATEway shuttle vehicles can operate safely in UK weather conditions and will prove critical in proving their roadworthiness for future operation on our roads.”

The GATEway project (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) is an £8 million project, jointly funded by government and industry and delivered by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK. Led by the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), which has over 50 years’ of experience in vehicle automation, the project will investigate public perception, reaction and engagement with a range of different types of automated vehicles.

The shuttle trial, one of a number of automated vehicle tests within the GATEway project, will investigate public acceptance of automated shuttle vehicles within the urban mobility landscape. Other trials set to take place in the project include automated delivery trials and remote teleoperation.

GATEway is one of three projects awarded by Innovate UK under its £10m competition entitled ‘Introducing driverless cars to UK roads’. The other two projects include UK Autodrive in Coventry and Milton Keynes, and Venturer in Bristol.