Commercial services on self-driving technologies could soon become a key component of the UK’s transport network, according to government ministers speaking at today’s launch of the new Commercialising Connected and Automated Mobility funding competition.
The Department for Transport (DfT) today announced the launch of the new £40m competition, which is designed to help kick-start the development of commercial self-driving services, such as delivery vehicles and passenger shuttles.
The competition aims to provide grants to help roll out commercial use self-driving vehicles across the UK from 2025, with projects to introduce self-driving delivery vans, passenger buses, shuttles and pods, as well as vehicles that move people and luggage at airports and containers at shipping ports, all potential recipients.
In addition, £1.5m of the funding has been ring-fenced to support a study to explore using self-driving vehicles as a means of public transport that could provide an alternative to mass transit systems. That includes, for example, using self-driving vehicles on routes separated from other traffic that could be cheaper and more flexible than new railway lines.
Minister for Investment Lord Grimstone hailed the competition as a major boost for the nascent autonomous vehicle sector.
“Self-driving vehicles have the potential to revolutionize people’s lives, whether its by helping to better connect people who rely on public transport with jobs, local shops, and vital services, or by making it easier for those who have mobility issues to order and access services conveniently,” he said.
“This funding will help unlock the incredible potential of this new and growing industry, building on the continued development of self-driving technology, attracting investment and helping make our transport cleaner, safer and more efficient.”
Transport Minister Trudy Harrison said there was already ample evidence self-driving vehicles can deliver multiple environmental and economic benefits.
“We know that self-driving vehicles have the potential to revolutionize the way we travel, making our future journeys cleaner, easier and more reliable,” she said. “But our absolute priority is harnessing the technology to improve road safety.
“With around 88 per cent of road collisions currently caused by human error, this funding will drive the introduction of new technology to improve travel for all, while boosting economic growth and highly skilled jobs across the nation.”
The government said the new funding would help cement the UK’s reputation as a global leader in self-driving vehicle technology, unlocking a new industry that could be worth £42bn to the UK economy by 2035, potentially creating 38,000 new skilled jobs.
The funding announcement follows confirmation in the Queen’s Speech that the government is to introduce a new Transport Bill in the recent Queen’s Speech that will introduce comprehensive legislation for self-driving vehicles to enable safe and responsible deployment.
Moreover, the first vehicles to be listed as self-driving in the UK – vehicles approved under the Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) Regulation – could be available for people to purchase, lease or rent later this year.
The latest developments were welcomed by Mike Hawes, chief executive at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Chief Executive, who said: “Self-driving vehicles offer major benefits to society – improving road safety, supporting new jobs and economic growth, and greater greater mobility for everyone – so the UK is rightly seeking to be at the forefront of this technological evolution.
“Recent regulatory reforms have helped Britain establish itself as a leader in the rollout out of self-driving passenger vehicles, and today’s announcement is a significant step towards self-driving public transport and goods delivery services becoming a reality. This new funding competition will help drive innovation and, potentially, private investment in UK automotive, ensuring cutting-edge self-driving technology finds a clearer path to UK roads.”