Smart traffic lights, flexible use of kerbsides, segregated driverless zones, and sat-navs learning through artificial intelligence are among the ideas shortlisted in a UK-wide competition to design roads fit for driverless cars.
Launched in January with Highways England and Innovate UK, The Roads for the Future competition sought ideas for preparing the UK’s road network for the growth of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs).
Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission Sir John Armitt said he and the competition jury had found the quality of entries to the Roads for the Future competition “very impressive”, particularly how the entrants sought to make maximum use of the infrastructure already available.
The Commission received 81 entries and Sir John and chair of the judging panel Bridget Rosewell confirmed the five going through to the competition’s final round are:
- AECOM – examining how smart signals could advise drivers and vehicles the speed they should drive at, so they arrive at the next set of traffic lights just as they turn green, helping to cut congestion and ending polluting ‘stop-go’ driving. The concept will be tested using a simulation model of the A59 in York
- Arup – looking at how kerbsides with fixed features such as double yellow lines, parking bays and bus stops could become more flexible, their use changing according to the time of day and levels of demand to meet the most pressing needs. The team will select a typical high street in London to test their FlexKerbs model
- City Science – based in Exeter, this entry examines how sections of existing roads could be dedicated to driverless cars, making it easier to manage any risk and integrate CAVs into the existing transport network.
- Immense Solutions – addressing how the latest artificial intelligence could be used to help sat-nav systems to ‘learn’ better routes to improve the directions given, so that both driven and driverless cars could change course to avoid congestion. Working with Oxfordshire County Council, the concept will be tested using simulations of four busy local roads: Abingdon Road, Thames Street, Oxpens Road, and Botley Road
- Leeds City Council – examining how the data generated from digitally connected cars could be used to improve traffic light systems, allowing highway authorities to better manage traffic on their roads and reduce tailbacks. The team will use models of roads across Leeds to test this idea.
These five teams will now receive up to £30,000 each to test their ideas, with a £50,000 prize available for the overall winner, to be announced later this autumn. Separately, four other commended entries are being put in contact with leading figures across Government and industry to test their ideas.
Chair of the Judging Panel for the Roads for the Future competition Bridget Rosewell added, “We cannot afford to focus purely on the technology under the bonnet – we also have to consider how our roads will work to support new driverless cars from the moment they arrive.
“With 81 entries received, our Roads for the Future competition has demonstrated the keen interest there is across industry to be at the forefront of the technologies supporting the introduction of driverless cars.
“We wanted to see how the rules of the road, road design and traffic management could all be adapted to accommodate these new vehicles – and these five entries particularly demonstrated the exciting potential there is to make the best use of those we already have.”
Of the shortlisted entrants, Heather Hawkins, Principal Consultant at AECOM said, “We are excited and are eager to get started so we can better understand the potential impact of vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies on our local road network in York. We are fortunate to be living and working in a city which has chosen to be an early innovator, deploying and testing these technologies on street through existing research programmes – it’s truly inspiring and we are grateful to be a part of it!”
Harrison Peck, Transport Planner, Arup commented, “With the arrival of connected and autonomous vehicles around the corner, it’s critical that we make sure our city streets are equipped to respond to them. We believe that intelligently managed kerbside space is the key to unlocking the benefits of a CAV-enabled world, while maintaining vibrant streets where people want to walk, cycle, and take public transport.”
Laurence Oakes-Ash, Chief Executive of City Science said, “We are excited to be part of this national initiative. With strategic planning, these technologies provide a significant opportunity to enhance mobility within our cities and regions, improve safety and reduce costs for users. This project will enable us to develop infrastructure design frameworks that will help move CAVs beyond the trial phases and into real-world use.”
Carl Goves, Chief Engineer and Co-Founder of Immense commented, “This competition represents an exciting opportunity to further our research in traffic prediction and demonstrate in a simulated world how these analytics can support better management of vehicles around an urban road environment now and in the future.”
Councillor Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council executive member for regeneration, transport and planning said, “As a council and city, we’ve made it clear we want Leeds to be at the forefront of developing technologies to help transform our transport network, so it is very pleasing our work in this area has been shortlisted. Digitally connected and autonomous vehicles have the potential to offer massive benefits in major cities like Leeds so we will continue to work with all our partners and stakeholders to turn this potential into reality.”
Plans for the Roads for the Future competition were announced as part of the Chancellor’s Budget statement in November 2017.