Exploring public attitudes towards driverless vehicles

By Blog

The idea of a driverless vehicle can seem unsettling, partly because it suggests a lesser amount of control and the suffix -less, also equates to missing – in this instance, of not being complete, or lacking. Autonomous vehicles on the other hand, might engender a different reaction: as something that is made to be self-governing, that doesn’t have to be operated by humans because it can work things out for itself, the autonomous vehicle represents an advanced technology that doesn’t need humans to function.

But the autonomous vehicle is the next step in vehicle evolution. Automated technology has existed in varying capacities for the last century – commercial airplanes, for example, are heavily automated meaning they can take off, fly and land on their own. However, there may be a critical difference in perceptions between automated and autonomous technology. While the former may be perceived to require inputs or supervision from an operator to be made in order to function (still present in case the conditions become unsuitable for automated operation), the latter acquires inputs and makes decisions on its own, enabling it to adjust to differences in external conditions.

So what do we think of when driverless vehicles are presented to us as an inevitability? As a popular subject for Sci-fi, robotics has often been portrayed as something that can go terribly wrong: Skynet, a self-aware form of artificial intelligence, from the Terminator franchise is bent on destroying humankind; Issac Asimov’s short stories from the I, Robot series (1940–1950) contain some of the best known examples of and instances in which humans struggle to control robots precisely because they are designed to be autonomous. Indeed, the idea of autonomous robotics presents broad ethical and philosophical questions – as demonstrated by Asimov’s character Cutie (QT1) when it declares: ‘I myself, exist, because I think.’

To help better understand public’s thoughts and feelings, we are currently exploring the public’s attitude towards the new technology in an effort to understand how the preconceptions of and preoccupations about driverless vehicles might be taken into account in the design process. It’s about engaging the public in conversation about the technology from the beginning to show them how autonomous vehicles work but also that the possibilities of what they can do are potentially boundless.

Within the GATEway project, we are approaching this from two perspectives. The first of which involves gathering information from co-creation workshops to gain a better understanding of the public’s perception.

We invited people from a variety of backgrounds (from experts in robotics to the general public) to engage in the discussions and think about sets of questions and scenarios allows the team to gain an insight into why some might fear the new technology and what people would like autonomous vehicles to do for them.

In total we hosted eight workshops, including over a hundred participants, producing thousands of hopes and fears about the future and more than 30 new driverless vehicle concepts detailing potential new features, services and opportunities to transform our cities.

These workshops, run by a team of designers from the Royal College of Art in London, are helping the GATEway team to better understand the needs, aspirations and concerns of a wide range of people including drivers, non-drivers, enthusiasts, professionals and those with additional needs. So what have we learnt so far?

During the workshops we asked participants to share their understanding of driverless vehicles and helped them to dig deeper into the impact that they might have on our everyday lives.

We started by asking everyone to share their hopes about driverless vehicles – considering issues like safety, ownership, costs as well as their impact on our society and the places that we live and work. Some of their thoughts included:

  • “We’ll never have to park, pay for parking or get fined for speeding again!”
  • “It will allow us to “re-think” the concept of the “road” so that it becomes a less dominant part of our towns and cities”
  • “We’ll get rid of boy racers and dangerous drivers without licenses”
  • “It might even be safer for pets and other animals when they are crossing the road”

And when we asked people to share their concerns we heard real worries about a future that is unknown and potentially highly disruptive:

  • “It will create a two tier system between those who can afford them and those who can’t.”
  • “Even more people might want to use cars instead of trains and buses, creating more congestion and leading to even more roads and urban sprawl.”
  • “It will make us more lazy and lead to an even bigger public health crisis.”
  • “Millions of jobs will be lost and will never be replaced.”
  • “It’s going to lead to the further automation of humanity.”

Many of the ideas were translated in real time by our workshop illustrators, Karen Jiyun Sung and Christiane Matz.

Workshopimage2We then asked everyone to form small teams so that they could co-develop future driverless vehicles that met their needs in new and delightful ways.

Teams started by imagining existing journeys and scenarios and then mapped out all the challenges that they might face during the trip. Journeys included commuting, shopping and trips to see friends or family.

Workshopimage6They then got to work with Playdoh, Lego, paper and pens! Channelling their inner child everyone managed to create imaginative and potentially ground breaking new vehicles that spoke about the positive opportunities of a driverless future.


We are now analysing the almost 500,000 words of recorded conversation to identify the opportunities and challenges that might help build a positive and inclusive driverless future.

Workshopimage3The second part to the project is about delivering the idea of autonomous technology to the public through a series of exhibitions which will present a variety of vehicles in different shapes and sizes that incorporate systems and services, even architectural spaces.

We’ll be showcasing this creative work as well as ideas from Vehicle Designers at the college in an exhibition at the Transport Museum in the New Year and further details will be shared in due course.

We look forward to seeing you then.



Dan Phillips

Visiting Tutor, Royal College of Art

Dan Phillips is a designer and engineer with 30 years’ experience in the development of innovative environments, products and services. He studied at Imperial College and the University of Cambridge and tutors on the Service Design programme at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and has been a member of a number of institutional advisory groups on cities, sustainability and the built environment.

Before coming to the RCA, Dan was Global Director for Sustainability at Buro Happold, ran his own design and innovation practice, the SEA, and worked at Eight Associates, Battle McCarthy, Arup and Ford on large scale projects in the UK, Europe, USA, Asia and Africa.

Project update: September 2016

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As we enter a new month, we’re fast approaching the half way mark for the GATEway project which officially kicked off on the 1st October 2015. With interest in the project continuing to grow and the start of trials drawing closer, below are the key developments in the project over the past six months:

1. We opened trial registration
Back in May we opened the door for members of public to register take part in the GATEway project. Since then over 5,000 people have registered for a chance to take part which really demonstrates the enthusiasm and interest in automated vehicles. Some have already had a chance to get involved in different elements of the project, while others are waiting for a chance to ride on the vehicles in the trials, which are due to start late autumn 2016.

2. We started our public engagement activities
In June we kicked-off our pre-trial engagement activities; working with members of the public to learn more about what the public really think about the idea of driverless vehicles. Over the past few months we have hosted a number of workshops in Greenwich to delve deeper into people’s thoughts and feelings towards these next generation of vehicles. Led by the Royal College of Art, these workshops encompass a number of different sets of questions, scenarios and creative activities to enable us to gain an insight into people’s attitudes towards the use of automated vehicles and their operation in cities.

3. We began collecting research data
As well as qualitative data, we have started to collect quantitative information about the public’s perception of automated vehicles via online channels. The University of Greenwich has launched an online questionnaire to understand how people may interact with autonomous vehicles, whilst Commonplace has launched an online heatmap of Greenwich where people can post their comments on where they think driverless vehicles will or won’t work.

4. We started LIDAR mapping the Greenwich environment
To enable safe navigation, each of our GATEway vehicles will be pre-loaded with a detailed 3D ‘map’ of each test environment. These maps are created by human-driven vehicles that survey the test environment and collect data from the same sets of sensors that used by the automated vehicles. In preparation for the trials, Oxbotica’s survey vehicle has been navigating around Greenwich, mapping the environment in varying lighting and weather conditions. This process will continue up until the trials begin later this year. An example of one of the maps created from this process can be found here.

5. We demonstrated autonomous driving in Greenwich
In August we completed 100km of autonomous driving in Greenwich with Oxbotica’s Selenium autonomy software. The milestone was completed during a visit from Stephen Mullighan MP, South Australian Transport and Infrastructure Minister as part of pre-trial preparation and was the first demonstration of fully autonomous driving in Greenwich.

6. We completed the first phase of development of our 3D model of Greenwich
One of the trials we’ll be conducting as part of the GATEway project will use TRL’s high fidelity DigiCar driving simulator to investigate how drivers of regular cars respond and adapt their behaviour to the presence of automated vehicles on the roads. To ensure the trials are representative of real-world driving, we have been working with Agility3 to develop a realistic 3D model of the Greenwich peninsula road environment, ready for participant trials late autumn this year. The first phase of this development was completed at the end of August and a sneak preview of the 3D model can be found here.

7. We started development and testing of our trial vehicles
Since the start of the project the team has been busy developing a next generation of fully autonomous and electric vehicles capable of navigating around Greenwich. This involves not only the design and build of the vehicles and the autonomous control software, but also an extensive period of safety testing ahead of official trials in Greenwich. The vehicles for the shuttle trial in Greenwich are being developed by Westfield Sportscars, Oxbotica and Heathrow Enterprises and are now entering the final stage of this process. At the same time, Gobotix have been successfully safety testing their adapted M1 vehicle for remote operation of an autonomous vehicle that has gone into ‘safe’ mode and needs to be moved to a safe position.

8. We completed the first ever wind tunnel test on an autonomous vehicle
As part of our safety testing, we successfully carried out the first ever wind tunnel test on an autonomous vehicle in the UK. The test, conducted by Westfield Sportscars and supported by the Niche Vehicle Network, sought to improve the aerodynamic efficiency and confirm safety of automated shuttles, ahead of our driverless shuttle trials.

And it doesn’t stop there; the next few months promise to be even busier. Members of the GATEway team will be at LCV from the 14th – 15th September along with a GATEway prototype vehicle. We’ll also be speaking at the Driverless Technology Conference in Milton Keynes on the 22nd November.

The GATEway team

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

By News

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.

100km of autonomous driving completed in Greenwich

By News

Oxbotica’s Selenium autonomy software has successfully completed 100km of autonomous driving in Greenwich, ahead of GATEway driverless vehicle trials later this year.

The milestone was completed during a visit from Stephen Mullighan MP, South Australian Transport and Infrastructure Minister, to TRL’s UK Smart Mobility Living Lab @ Greenwich. The visit, which was arranged to enable the South Australian Minister to learn more about UK innovations in connected and automated vehicles (CAVs), saw Mr Mullighan and his supporting delegation welcomed to the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab by Rob Wallis, CEO of TRL, alongside representatives from the UK’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and Living Lab partners Royal Borough of Greenwich, Oxbotica and Royal Sun Alliance.

The Minister was given presentations on several UK CAV projects, including GATEway, followed by a live demonstration of Oxbotica’s Selenium autonomy software, which will be used in the GATEway vehicle trials in Greenwich starting later this year. The software successfully navigated a purpose built concept vehicle around the Greenwich Peninsula, with Mr Mullighan and his delegation given a chance to ride on the vehicle.

Selenium_GW website

Stephen Mullighan, Transport and Infrastructure Minister South Australia commented: “It was fantastic to see such a collection of very credible companies coming together in an open and creative, real-life way. It’s clear the UK is really opening up its markets for such innovative programmes of research and through initiatives like the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab, is encouraging a level of cross sector collaboration that is truly inspirational.”

Rob Wallis, CEO at TRL added “It’s great to see international enthusiasm for the driverless vehicle projects taking place in the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab. The fact that other countries are looking to the UK for guidance demonstrates the pivotal role the UK now plays in this innovative and globally disrupting marketplace.”

Based in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, London and supported by UK government, the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab @ Greenwich helps organisations bring solutions to market faster by enabling them to be trialled and validated in a real-life environment. Vehicle manufacturers, OEMs and tech organisations like Oxbotica can use the ‘Living Lab’ to assist with research and development, concept testing and validation, launching new technology or services, and understanding how new technology is perceived in a real world environment.

For more information about the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab visit: www.uklivinglab.co.uk


Notes to Editors

The vehicle shown in the video is a purpose built vehicle called Geni, commissioned by Oxbotica. It is not one of the GATEway vehicles that will be used in the GATEway shuttle trials, starting later this year.