The cars are part of a government-backed R&D programme.

A fleet of autonomous vehicles have hit the road in Oxford, undergoing a series of trials to develop the technology. The ‘level-four’ autonomous vehicles, which can drive themselves in most situations but still have controls for human override, will be tested on the city streets until next autumn.

The six Ford Mondeos, converted by Oxbotica to be autonomous, will be trialled over a nine-mile round trip between Oxford Parkway station and Oxford’s main train station. The trials will be run at all times of day and night, testing Oxbotica’s vehicles in a range of traffic scenarios from morning commutes to school runs, and in a range of weather conditions.

It’s hoped the trials will demonstrate autonomous driving in a range of urban and city environments, as well as helping local authorities and communities prepare for the advent of autonomous cars by developing “engagement models”. Dubbed Project Endeavour, the trials are backed by the government, while it involves the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), the British Standards Institution (BSI) and Oxfordshire County Council.

“Trials of level-four vehicles are an important milestone, keeping the UK at the head of the field in bringing the benefits of this technology into mainstream use,” said Camilla Fowler, head of automation at TRL. “These exciting trials, and what we learn about assuring safety and encouraging interoperability, will open up new opportunities for many more research demonstrations across the UK, which are the forerunners to the full-scale public trials so eagerly awaited.”

Project Endeavour autonomous vehicle trials

Meanwhile Laura Peacock, Innovation Hub manager at Oxfordshire County Council, said the trials would keep the city at the spearhead of driverless technology.

“It is exciting to be part of Project Endeavour,” she said. “Oxfordshire County Council’s Innovation Hub has been at the forefront of autonomous mobility for the last four years. The progress that has been made in the Connected Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) ecosystem is huge, moving from simulation, trials in isolated environments and now to the first live on-road public trials in Oxford. We are working with partners to create a systematic approach for other local authorities to engage and interact with CAV trials in their regions, which brings us much closer to CAV deployments becoming a reality to bring benefit to our communities and UK PLC.”

The Project Endeavour trial will also take in two more UK cities, with the scheme culminating in public demonstrations of the technology. The scheme will also see the PAS 1881 standard for public autonomous trials develop further – a move the government hopes will “inspire trust” and “define a consistent approach to safety” that will enable future trials to happen efficiently.

Gallery: Project Endeavour autonomous vehicle trials