The trial of self-driving vehicles in pedestrianised areas of Milton Keynes has attracted largely positive interest from local residents, according to a new YouGov online poll.
The independent poll was commissioned by Transport Systems Catapult which is overseeing the LUTZ Pathfinder ‘pod’ trial, and found that 61 per cent of adults living in Milton Keynes would be interested in using the electric-powered two-seater ‘pods’ for making ‘short hop’ journeys.
That compared to interest levels of 38 per cent among respondents in the UK as a whole. When it came to people in the national survey who had already heard something about the project before taking part in the survey, the figure rose to 48 per cent – suggesting that familiarity with the trials is helping to improve public attitudes towards the technology.
“The LUTZ Pathfinder project is trialling the technical capabilities of self-driving vehicles, but it also has an equally important role in increasing public awareness about this technology, and its potential benefits,” said Transport Systems Catapult CEO Steve Yianni.
“It’s wonderful to see how much the people of Milton Keynes are getting behind the project, and we’ll continue to engage with the public and watch how they interact with the pods as the project progresses.”
The LUTZ Pathfinder pods have been designed and manufactured by Coventry-based RDM Group and are equipped with an autonomous control system developed by the University of Oxford’s Mobile Robotics Group.
Up to three pods are being used during the trial, with each one being driven initially in manual mode as it ‘learns’ its environment. Once they have begun to operate in self-driving mode, a trained test driver will remain in each pod for the duration of the trial, ready to take control of the vehicle if required.
The trial will culminate in a public demonstration of the technology, due to take place in Milton Keynes later this year. Findings from the trial will also be fed into the larger-scale three-year UK Autodrive programme which will involve a fleet of 40 pods as well as regular road-based cars operating in Milton Keynes and Coventry.
The YouGov poll showed that awareness of the project is already high, with nearly one in four adults (23 per cent) in the UK having heard about the trial. In Milton Keynes more than three quarters (78 per cent) of those surveyed had done so.
The survey also asked some open-ended questions to find out what would make people more likely to use a self-driving vehicle and what concerns they still had.
For both the national and local surveys, safety topped the list of concerns about the technology in both polls, followed by worries about malfunctions and breakdowns. Low cost of use and proven safety were the primary factors that would make the respondents more likely to use a self-driving vehicle.
“While the overall attitude of the public towards self-driving vehicles is reassuringly positive, particularly in Milton Keynes itself, there are always understandable concerns around new technology,” Steve Yianni said. “So a key part of this trial will be to demonstrate the high safety levels and reliability of these vehicles – as well as to identify what work still needs to be done in future trials.”