Makers of Milton Keynes’ driverless public transport pods unveiled

This image is an early concept design and does not represent a final design.
This image is an early concept design and does not represent a final design.

The city is one step closer to finding out how self-driving vehicles will look on the pavements of Milton Keynes now the manufacturer has been announced.

Coventry-based RDM Group will make the futuristic LUTZ Pathfinder pods, which will be trialled next year, after being appointed by project managers Transport Systems Catapult (TSC) following an open OJEU tender process which attracted a total of five bids.

RDM and TSC will now work together with Oxford University’s Mobile Robotics Group (MRG) to create three electric-powered pods, which are part of the TSC’s Low Carbon Urban Transport Zone (LUTZ) Pathfinder programme which is studying the feasibility of autonomous and on-demand vehicles.

RDM Group CEO David Keene said: “We are absolutely delighted to have won this prestigious project following a very in-depth tendering process.

“The LUTZ Pathfinder project represents an opportunity for RDM to showcase our technical abilities in advanced vehicle design, development and build to both a UK and global audience.

“We have invested heavily in attracting the right people with skills in advanced electronics, software development, mobile apps and vehicle engineering and all of these attributes will be brought into play on this project.”

The self-driving pods will carry up to two passengers, and with a top speed of around 12 kilometres per hour (7 m.p.h.), the pavement-based pods are intended to increase the number of mobility options available to the public, while also reducing congestion and carbon emissions.

RDM are scheduled to complete the manufacture of the first pod by the end of this year, allowing the Oxford University robotics experts to install their technology and begin test-track trials in early 2015.

Once these trials are completed, the pods will be ready for testing in public on the pavements of Milton Keynes. With safety issues of paramount importance throughout the duration of the assessment programme, the three pods will continue to be manned by trained human operators.

Transport Systems Catapult programme director Neil Fulton said: “The LUTZ Pathfinder project will redefine how people think of ‘driving’, and therefore fits in perfectly with our mission to promote UK business growth in the field of intelligent mobility.

“The appointment of the pods’ manufacturers is obviously a major milestone for the project and I am very happy to welcome RDM on board.”

Following a first “kick-off meeting” with the team from RDM, Oxford MRG project leader Professor Paul Newman also welcomed the announcement.

He said: “The LUTZ project is a great opportunity to showcase UK robotics, identified as one of the UK’s great technologies.

“Transport is a particularly exciting application for robotics and we look forward to working with the Transport Systems Catapult and RDM on this flagship project and showing how research from UK universities can be turned into compelling public demonstrations.”