Lutz Pathfinder Driverless 'Pod' Ready For Public Trials In U.K.

Sep 17, 2015 10:03 AM EDT | John Nassivera


The U.K. remains committed to its goal of becoming the leader in self-driving technology with the creation of a two-seater pod that doesn't need anyone behind the wheel to operate.

The new electric "Lutz Pathfinder" pod, developed by Transport Systems Catapult and RDM Group, arrived in Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, England Tuesday ready for public trials, according to Bloomberg. The goal for the project, which was first announced 18 months ago and unveiled a prototype in February, will be to provide a new public transport option that people can summon with their smartphones.

The car works thanks to Mercury, an autonomous control system created by Oxford University's Mobile Robotics Group that includes lasers, radar and cameras for scanning streets for any people or objects present. The vehicle will first "learn" about its environment in manual mode when Mercury is installed, and then it will able to enter self-driving mode with a person ready to take control in case the system experiences a problem.

The trials in Milton Keynes will include calibration tests on a private test track, which will be followed by public testing if the car proves itself to be ready, Engadget reported.

Successful tests will make the Lutz Pathfinder the first fully autonomous vehicle to be trialed in a pedestrianized area in the U.K.

"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," said Steve Yianni, CEO for Transport Systems Catapult.

The U.K. still has to deal with the lack of legislation for self-driving vehicles in order to eventually put cars like the Lutz Pathfinder on public roads, Bloomberg reported.

"At the moment if you were to try and put even a Segway onto the pavements it's illegal, let alone an autonomous four-wheeled vehicle," said Neil Fulton, program director for the project at Transport Systems Catapult. The country currently only has a code of practice established by its Department for Transport to let the technology be tested.

The Lutz Pathfinder is one of several projects developed by the U.K. to become the leader in self-driving technology through a five-year, 120 million pound ($185 million) plan. The effort, which also includes one project in Bristol and another in Greenwich, London, is aimed at developing new technology, bringing accidents down and improving air quality.

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