Oxford residents may not have realised it, but they may have already seen the future of mobility.
Oxbotica has been running trials of its autonomous vehicle software on a route between Oxford Parkway and Oxford station. Known as Project Endeavour, the programme is co-funded by an Innovate UK grant and sees autonomous-ready vehicles making the trip between the two stations with a safety driver in position ready to take control, if needed.
Though novel today, autonomous shuttles could be commonplace before the end of the decade, according to Oxbotica’s SVP of External Affairs, Graeme Smith.
“We think shuttles and delivery vehicles, that move people and goods en-masse, could be running autonomously sooner rather than later,” he says. “Autonomy has the potential to enhance our safety, increase production, reduce carbon emissions and enrich our quality of life.”
The company, a spin-out from Oxford University, has taken a different approach to autonomous vehicles, focusing on a software autonomy platform rather than hardware.
Instead of relying on GPS to track vehicles, Oxbotica uses a mixture of radar, laser and vision sensing to deliver autonomous operation in a vast range of settings, on any vehicle platform, under any conditions. This pioneering technology has already operated in a range of environments without access to GPS, such as in mines and quarries, inside warehouses.
“Our software platform is designed to deliver autonomy to our clients and partners in the shape they need using their preferred sensors and vehicles,” he reveals. “We have never attempted to solve the autonomous vehicle puzzle by building a vehicle from the ground up. Instead focusing our efforts on building software for real-world autonomous vehicle application, drawing on principles of physics, robotics, maths and AI.”
“For example, the same piece of Oxbotica software can control a huge truck in a mine as well as an autonomous shuttle on the streets of Oxford. With this platform, there really are no limits, the opportunities are endless, and we all stand to benefit.”
The global leader in autonomy software has a base at the Oxford Business Park in Cowley as well as its original home, the Culham Innovation Centre. It started out at the tech hub run by the UK Atomic Energy Agency (UKAEA) because it has a private road network which was invaluable for early testing of its system.
Oxbotica is a talent magnet for those wanting to develop a career in the autonomous vehicle software market, with employees hired from around the globe. Although this makes it less directly reliant than some tech companies in the region on graduates from Oxford’s universities, Smith reveals the business does benefit from the “Oxford brand”, with the region a place that highly-qualified technology experts want to relocate to.
About this case study - Powering up the Green Economy: Oxfordshire's role in building a cleaner future
Advanced Oxford would like to thank all of the companies that participated in this project for their time and for providing us with images which illustrate their technology and work. This case study was written by Sean Hargrave, working with Advanced Oxford.