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The UK’s first trials of a driverless delivery vehicle have taken place in Greenwich.

The autonomous CargoPod, developed by British company Oxbotica , set off through the quiet streets of the Royal Arsenal Development in Woolwich for the first time on Tuesday, June 27.

The futuristic van is part of the Gateway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) Project, led by transport service TRL and working alongside Ocado Technology to bring driverless delivery vehicles to reality.

Greenwich Council is a leading partner in the Gateway Project. The council’s cabinet member for transport, economy and smart cities, cllr Sizwe James , said autonomous vehicles brought the chance to improve air quality and ease traffic congestion in the borough, and could one day be used for refuse collection or delivering medication to residents with mobility issues.

He said: “We want to be seen as welcoming to autonomous vehicles. It will bring opportunities to the borough and hopefully allow some of these companies and organisations to locate to the borough as well, which will hopefully lead to more jobs for our residents.

Cllr Sizwe James of Greenwich Borough Council at the trial

“Automation is coming, whatever we do. There’s no point us burying our heads in the sand. If we get companies moving to the borough we can start understanding what the new jobs are, what new skills are needed and how best we can train our residents up for these new opportunities.

“A lot of lower skilled jobs are in danger from automation. We will always try to protect any members of our staff where driving is their job or profession. We want to be there first, so we can understand it and allow our residents to benefit.”

The CargoPod uses a software system called Selenium to understand and navigate its surroundings, and has laser sensors enabling it to come to a halt if anything crosses its path.

The van contains eight numbered lockers containing shopping, and the customer receives notifications when it has been loaded and when it arrives telling them which locker contains their shopping - an identification task made even easier by the fact that the relevant locker will light up on arrival.

The driverless van can carry 128kg of groceries and eight boxes at a time, and is designed to travel no more than around a mile to each delivery destination.

Shoppers will be notified when the van arrives and collect their own groceries

Although it drives autonomously, for the sake of health and safety during the trial journey it was required to have two people sat in the front seat - one from Ocado to help customers with their deliveries and one from Oxbotica just in case something went wrong.

TRL’s Professor Nick Reed said: “For now we just want to see how people react to these vehicles. The response has generally been very positive. I suppose it starts people thinking about how deliveries might be made in the future. We can’t even imagine the different things this technology will end up being used for.”

He added: “In 95% of collisions on the roads, human error is a factor. What we are trying to achieve is removing human error from that equation.

“There will always be some things you can’t predict, but we are aiming for it to be at least as safe as a human driver and hopefully much better. The question we don’t know the answer to yet is how much safer does it have to be before people will trust it on the roads?”

Ocado and Oxbotica hope the driverless vans will be ready for use by 2019.

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