European Roads See First Zero-Occupancy Autonomous Journey

We write a lot about self-driving vehicles here at Hackaday, but it’s fair to say that most of the limelight has fallen upon large and well-known technology companies on the west coast of the USA. It’s worth drawing attention to other parts of the world where just as much research has gone into autonomous transport, and on that note there’s an interesting milestone from Europe. The British company Oxbotica has successfully made the first zero-occupancy on-road journey in Europe, on a public road in Oxford, UK.

The glossy promo video below the break shows the feat as the vehicle with number plates signifying its on-road legality drives round the relatively quiet roads through one of the city’s technology parks, and promises a bright future of local deliveries and urban transport. The vehicle itself is interesting, it’s a platform supplied by the Aussie outfit AppliedEV, an electric spaceframe vehicle that’s designed to provide a versatile platform for autonomous transport. As such, unlike so many of the aforementioned high-profile vehicles, it has no passenger cabin and no on-board driver to take the wheel in a calamity; instead it’s driven by Oxbotica’s technology and has their sensor pylon attached to its centre.

It’s fair to say that despite this milestone it’s still early days, but the company say they’ve inked a deal with the British online supermarket Ocado and hope to start deliveries of customer orders sometime in 2023. It’s worth noting that the action takes place somewhere steeped in automotive history, as Oxford Technology Park North is the former site of the Morris Cowley works, over the road from the plant that currently produces Minis.

Exciting times for self-driving abound for Brits at the moment, as they’re also experiencing their first autonomous bus route.

Thanks [Malie Lalor] for posting the tip.

50 thoughts on “European Roads See First Zero-Occupancy Autonomous Journey

  1. Very much a “first step” on an idealised empty, straight, well formed piece of road. I don’t think that resembles any “open road” in the UK that I’ve ever seen, can’t wait to see how it handles overlapping parked cars, zigzagging other traffic, pedestrians, cyclists, mopeds & motorbikes

    I’m also curious how something made solely of steel bars can be road legal when cars have to have crumple zones and be safe not only for their occupants but for people that they drive into

    1. I suspect the platform passed crash tests without the frame bolted on top, much like bull bars are legal to have fitted but no-one is submitting vehicles to crash tests with them fitted or offering them as official accessories through dealers.

      1. I worked with a Chilean guy once who hated people using the word “American” to mean “USA” because he felt it erased everybody else in North and South America.

        When words for specific political entities are equated to specific regions things get messy. As a Brit I’m totally happy to be referred to as European seeing as we left the political Union and not the geographical region, but then again I did vote against Brexit…

        1. At risk of flame war: I voted for brexit, but still happy to be referred to as European – one of the main leave arguments for centrists was that it’s about the political flaws of the EU, not about europe itself

    1. Nope, still anchored off the coast of France last time I looked.

      At risk of starting a flame war, Europe != EU, even if most European countries are in the EU.

      1. These cars will need to pass EU tests as set by EU laws.. probably written by “consulting” German car companies. After diesel or price fixing “conspiracies” of past decades, we know how they “roll” and how happy they will be to put all kind of obstacles. So the cars will have a uphill battle to be in EU roads… or countries that have deals with/want to join EU. Really, probably only UK unless it passes all the paperwork that is out of reach now, unlike before leaving EU when UK played all kind of games (eg, marmalade strict definition). In other words, highly probable of car being not very relevant in European transportation milestones.

        (The nick is from UK, for those that not know)

  2. @00:81: “So this is that first step onto the open road in the UK. And you’ll see more of this.”

    Yup, that’s the plan… Eliminate all taxpayer-owned and driven competing vehicles on the open taxpayer-funded roads and replace them with on-call government controlled “autonomous” vehicles that will permit you to go where you want – when you want (or not), and directly tap your bank account for the fare which is set without competition. It’s the “Green” solution that simply moves the point of pollution from the tailpipe to the smokestack of a conveniently out-of-sight electric generating plant. What could possibly go wrong Comrade? Utopia here we come!

    1. Yes, Mr Ludd.
      This privately owned company partnering with other privately owned companies to make privately owned profits is a secret government plan… to generate revenue for the shareholders… wait that doesn’t make sense, just like your irrational fears.
      This has nothing to do with the actual improved efficiency of fossil fuels in power plants delivering power to the wheels of electric vehicles over internal combustion engines. That’s just more of your irrational fear.

      1. It ISN’T a factor. The ONLY factor for this corporation is profit. The only factor for any corporation, ever, is profit. More, or less, pollution is irrelevant to them, except as a means to obtain money. If people just assume its greener, that works great for them. And if people end up paying more for each and every ride despite zero environmental improvements, that’s also great for them.

        1. I’m not sure what you think you’re saying here. I think we agree that Mr Ludd’s paranoia about government controlled vehicles is nonsense. The green issue though, that’s one where government regulation really can be helpful: by building into the cost of using fossil fuels the cost of their damage it incentivises the actual ‘green’ technologies, not just what people assume is greener.

    2. An electric vehicle on oil-fired power plant has 50% less CO2 emissions than a petrol car, as the power plant + transmission line + battery + electric motor chain is about double as efficient as the internal combustion engine (+ refinery + fuel transport). And even less than 50% if you shift part or all that onto renewable energy which you can’t hardly do with a petrol car (short of HVO for a diesel)

      It is not just “moving the point of pollution”. It’s halving it. Or more. To a place were it’s easier to filter out particulate matters as well.

      1. “An electric vehicle on oil-fired power plant has 50% less CO2 emissions than a petrol car,”

        This is a bit of a naive way to think about it. For short transport in populated areas EVs are a great option. Far higher fuel efficiency, no particulate emission, etc. But you could also just… ban personal vehicles in highly populated areas and rely on short-range public transport methods (which would reduce the CO2 emissions even *more*).

        For longer-haul personal transportation the argument starts to fall apart. The particulate emission now isn’t a big deal (it’s in a non-populated area) and the efficiency argument also begins to fall when you’re talking about high-current fast charging, due to the higher charging losses (and the overall battery degradation which has environmental impact as well).

        More importantly focusing on personal vehicle emissions just doesn’t make any sense. They’re far subdominant to power generation (personal vehicle emissions are less than 1/3 of the power industry’s emissions in Europe, for instance) and that “50% less” means that every dollar spent on personal vehicle emissions rather than the power industry gets less bang for the buck anyway.

        The “moving the point of emissions” criticism really is valid from an economics standpoint.

    3. Go easy on the tin-foil hat there fella… look around, 95% of folks don’t give two shits about their cars and just want to get from A to B as cheaply and easily as possible.

      The last 5-10% of us who actually like cars are so insignificant as to be not worth legislating about – hence classic cars now don’t even need road tax or MOT – which feels like the opposite of an oppressive big government trying to regulate us out of existance and stop us from doing anything. They even explicitly allow a lot of modifications to older vehicles.

      95% of people would be delighted to have a cheap reliable electric robot taxi to & from work or the shops that they don’t have to pass a test to use and that they can sit in the back & play on their phones or watch TV or even sleep while it whisks them along, and honestly is that so bad? Why do we want people driving around who aren’t interested in driving, aren’t very good at it, aren’t paying attention, don’t want to maintain a vehicle, etc.?

      1. We? Who is “we”.

        You act like this is some sort of collective decision. This is a corporation pursuing profit. This has nothing, at all, to do with what is best for people.

    1. There is quite a difference between Europe, the continent, the European Union, an organisation of countries in Europe* and Europa the moon of jupiter. the last one isn’t even on earth #MindBlown

      *without Great Britain, Switzerland, etc., but theoretically open for anyone who meets the requirements to join.

    2. Lmfao you really think that they voted to leave the continent.

      Yknow, it seems like no matter how intelligent a person is, that doesn’t prevent them from occasionally asking questions my eight year old could answer just fine.

      It’s your ego. Instead of looking for someway the sentence makes sense, which is clearly obvious, you look for an understanding that shows how valuable and skilled you are. It’s sad kinda.

  3. I think it’s funny that they designed it with so much roll cage. Doesn’t really inspire confidence in it’s obstacle avoidance… I can’t help but imagine the same ad, except with the roll cage all dented and covered in mud and scratches. They’d be playing inspiring music with voiceovers as it slowly plows through outdoor restaurant seating, drives halfway off the road, and gets chased through paddies by engineers.

  4. This is a good step forwards. Perhaps not for us in Europe but for the rest of the world. Only 30% of all people have got a car. So when the other 70% becomes wealthy and also want a car, there simply is not enough space for it. In Hong Kong people now travel slower with their cars then when they used bicycles. So we really need to think more about using cars differently.

    But I must admit that I also don’t want to share… I use my car for less than 1 hour per day on average so pretty wasteful.

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