Autonomous and Connected Vehicles

This fact sheet provides a snapshot of developments towards full autonomy and a brief introduction to the concepts of autonomy and connected vehicles and also assisted driving. 

Snapshot of developments in Britain and worldwide

  • As early as the 1950’s and 1960’s the UK's Transport Research Laboratory (now called TRL) was operating ‘self-driving’ cars on its test track.[i]
  • 2010: Google made its first announcement about its driverless car programme.[ii]
  • 2011: Fully-automated (driverless) ‘pods’ start to be used at Heathrow’s terminal five, on a designated track. Round about the same time, trials of the Google Car started[iii].
  • February 2015: Britain’s Department for Transport produces its regulatory review of conditions for testing automated vehicles in the UK for creating a ‘pathway’ for driverless vehicles. The commits to “amending national and international legislation to facilitate production and marketing of highly and fully automated vehicles. It is envisaged that national legislation can be amended by 2017 and there should be an aim to finalise amendments to international regulations by the end of 2018.” [iv]
  • February 2015: The start of ‘Driverless Vehicle Trials’ in Greenwich[v], Bristol[vi], Milton Keynes and Coventry[vii], involving teams of engineers testing electric, fully-automated pods potentially for use in cities.
  • July 2015: The Department for Transport launches its “code of practice” for automated vehicle technology testing[viii]. The government also set up the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (C-CAV).
    2015: Tesla positions itself as a company that builds vehicles from the ground up that are electric but also have "the hardware needed for self-driving capability." Customers are warned to be attentive at all times. [xxv]
  • January 2016: The European Union’s Platform for the Deployment of Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems published its final report in January 2016, saying “a coordinated action for the deployment of C-ITS in the EU is paramount: a unique legal and technical framework is essential and coordinated efforts to ensure quick uptake of C-ITS are requested.”[ix]
  • February 2016: The first funds out of the government’s dedicated £100m ‘intelligent mobility research’ fund are assigned to eight projects across the UK[x], including a project equipping a small length of Britain’s roads to be ready to test automated vehicles[xi] and a project aiming to accelerate the ‘development, market readiness and deployment’ of automated driving systems[xii].
  • March 2016: In the government’s budget, it is announced that automated vehicles will be trialled on British motorways by the end of 2017[xiii]. This is expected to include trials of several trucks travelling in platoons (connected to the lead truck using wireless technology).
  • April 2016: Highways England announces, in its Innovation, Technology and Research strategy, that its £150m innovation fund will include trials of connected and autonomous vehicle technologies and development of infrastructure standards on the strategic road network (motorways and A roads) to “futureproof” the network for these technologies[xiv].
  • April 2016: Six manufacturers of trucks take part in the European Truck Platooning Challenge[xv] showcasing platooning of large trucks on public roads heading for the Netherlands.
  • May 2016: Emphasising the importance of driver attention alongside ADAS systems, Joshua Brown dies in his Tesla when it collides with a truck crossing the carriageway while Tesla's adaptive cruise control system called Autopilot was engaged. Tesla said: "Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky so the brake was not applied." 
  • October 2016: Tesla announces that all vehicles produced in its factory are now fitted with the "hardware needed for full self-driving capability."
  • Trials of automated vehicles and connected vehicle technology, generally funded by governments, concurrently take place in other countries around the world, including USA, Sweden, Germany, Japan, and Singapore.

Understanding autonomous and connected vehicles

What do the terms mean, and what technology do they use? 
A definition of a fully-automated vehicle is given in the international standard produced by the engineer organisation SAE International.[xvi] This standard defines a fully-automated vehicle as one that not only can be driven entirely without a driver, but can be also be driven in "all roadway and environmental conditions". 

Sensor technology such as cameras, radar and laser technology (LIDAR) has driven many developments in autonomy.  Communication technology is now also highly relevant in the development of vehicle autonomy and connected transport. The term “connected” means information can be passed wirelessly from vehicle to vehicle (V2V), and/or vehicle to infrastructure (V2I)). The collective term is vehicle to everything (V2X). This means, for example, that a vehicle can ‘know’ another vehicle is approaching over the brow of a hill, even though it can’t ‘see’ it, and can ‘know’ there are roadworks around the corner.  This technology has the advantage of being able to perceive things that are further away than sensor technology, and potentially be cheaper to fit to vehicles than sensor technology[xvii]. However, it requires a coordinated approach to enable all vehicles and infrastructures to communicate compatibly.

Is the UK supportive of automated, connected vehicles? 
In Britain, the government is supportive of the development of automated and connected vehicles and is funding and allowing testing; progressively in our cities, on motorways and other roads. The government is also committed to amending legislation to enable production and sale of automated vehicles. In its Action Plan[xxi] for creating a ‘pathway’ for driverless vehicles, the Department for Transport commits to “amending national and international legislation to facilitate the production and marketing of highly and fully automated vehicles. It is envisaged that national legislation can be amended by 2017 and there should be an aim to finalise amendments to international regulations by the end of 2018.” [xxii] The government has run a public consultation on automation in 2016.

Research-led tests and trials
Driverless vehicles have been tested, trialled and showcased in several countries with much publicity, but are not in public use. This includes UK government-funded trials of automated electric pods (for example in the GATEway[xviii] project in London, led by research agency TRL). It also includes connected trucks that can travel in platoons (close convoy) using V2V technology: platooning has been the subject of European research[xix] and been demonstrated on roads in Europe in 2016 and will be trialled on UK roads in 2017. [xx] 

These trials are generally government funded and aim to test out the technology but also the practicality of introducing it on roads, including public reaction. For example, the GATEway project in London was set up with an outcome of advising industry and policy-makers on understanding the implications of autonomous vehicles and how to deliver a safe testing environment in the UK." Its objectives were to: demonstrate a safe and efficient integration of a sophisticated autonomous transport system into a complex and real environment; generate valuable, exploitable knowledge of the systems required to host and test autonomous vehicles; understand technical, cultural, societal and legal challenges and barriers; create a valid test bed in the heart of London; inspire industry and public involvement and place the UK at the forefront of the global autonomous vehicle market.

What vehicle manufacturers are doing
Many leading vehicle manufacturers make confident statements about their ability to provide the technology for full automation. “Today's discussion no longer revolves around whether the technology will deliver on its promise but whether people want what the technology can deliver and whether society and legislators are ready for this "revolution in automobility.” (Mercedes-Benz[xxiii])

The electric car manufacturer Tesla is designing its cars with a driverless future in mind and providing users with updates of software that they can download themselves, while also warning that this doesn't negate the need for driver attention.

More traditional, long-established vehicle manufacturers are progressively adding Advanced Driver Assistance Systems to their vehicles, that use sensor technology and can respond on behalf of the driver (but still require a driver to be attentive), moving their models in the direction of full automation. These systems largely fall outside test approval legislation and can therefore, at present, be added without any government-approved independent verification that they meet any particular safety standard. Some of these systems are proven to be useful for safety; others have variable advantages. Read more at Advanced Driver Assistance Systems.




End notes

[i] 1960’s Citroen DS Driverless Vehicle Test, Sunday Times Driving, 2013
[ii] Google cars drive themselves: in traffic, New York Times, 2010
[iii] Google Self Driving Car, undated
[iv] Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, The Pathway to Driverless Cars: summary report and action plan, February 2015
[v] Greenwich automated transport environment, GATEway project
[vi] Venturer Cars
[vii] Catapult Transport Systems, Driverless pods
[viii] Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, The Pathway for Driverless Cars: a code of practice for testing, 2015
[ix] CITS platform, Final report, January 2016
[xi] UK Connected Intelligent Transport Environment (UKCITE) Smart Mobility
[xii] UK Smart Mobility, Living Lab
[xiii] Department for Transport, Trials of wirelessly connected vehicles and driverless cars, 2016 
[xiv] Highways England, Innovation, Technology and Research strategy, 2016
[xv] European Truck Platooning, European Truck Platooning Problem, 2016
[xvi] SMMT, SAE International Standard J3016: Overview  
[xvii] US Department of Transportation, V2V communication technology fact sheet, 2014
[xviii] Greenwich automated transport environment, GATEway project
[xix] SARTRE project, Platooned traffic can be integrated with other road users, 2012
[xx] European Truck Platooning, European Truck Platooning Problem, 2016 
[xxi] The Pathway to Driverless Cars: summary report and action plan, February 2015
[xxii] The Pathway to Driverless Cars: summary report and action plan, February 2015
[xxiii] Autonomous Driving, Daimler 
[xxiv] Greenwich automated transport environment, GATEway project
[xxv] Tesla website


Page updated: October 2016

Tags: Transport Research Laboratory technology driverless