RDM Group showcases first self-driving ‘pod’

The LUTZ Pathfinder, the first of three electric-powered ‘pod’ vehicles, was unveiled outside Milton Keynes Central train station as part of a project to trial automated vehicles in pedestrianised areas.

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

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.

“This was 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,” said Transport Systems Catapult CEO Steve Yianni.

“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.”

The pods will operate in autonomous mode, with a trained operator remaining in each pod to take back control of the vehicle if necessary. The pods will have a maximum speed of 15mph but will be limited electronically depending upon the environment they are travelling in.

“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,” Yianni added. “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.”

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 road-based cars, in Milton Keynes and Coventry.