VENTURER and GATEway collaborate on public event

Over the weekend of 4 – 6 August VENTURER teamed up with the GATEway project as part of the Festival of What If, hosted by the At-Bristol Science Centre, to showcase driverless technology to the public.

The event focused on the future of transport and represented a first for the VENTURER consortium by partnering with the Greenwich Automated Transport Environment (GATEway) project led by TRL. GATEway is based in the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, London and has similar objectives to VENTURER including exploring public perception and understanding of Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs).

Both projects are using virtual simulations and physical test beds in order to better understand the legal and technical challenges of implementing automated vehicles in urban environments, with VENTURER testing the on-road Wildcat vehicle in a range of increasingly complex urban environments. They are also looking to analyse and influence public understanding and acceptance of CAVs with GATEway focusing on first and last mile transportation and urban deliveries and VENTURER looking at on-road autonomy issues including handover of control.

The highlight of the three-day outdoor event was the GATEway driverless pod, built by Westfield Sportscars Ltd using the original Heathrow design and equipped with 3D imaging and location sensors developed by Bristol-based company Fusion Processing. A large area on Millennium Square was cordoned off to allow for the pod to perform a ‘figure of eight’ loop, which, despite the varying weather conditions, drew the attention of many members of the public visiting the harbourside.

Also popular with families was the Wildcat which they could get up close to in order to inspect the many sensors it has. Staff from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), Bristol City Council and Atkins were on hand to explain how the technology works and to provide more information about the VENTURER project.

Visitors were also able to sit in the stationary Renault Twizy which was brought along by the BRL. It was, however, most impressive when it was being driven autonomously in ‘no hands’ mode to the delight and confusion of many people on Millennium Square!

Younger visitors were particularly taken with Pepper, a programmable humanoid robot which is able to talk and pick up on the emotions of humans around him as well as MiRo, a puppy robot which would be a great companion for people who either can’t have pets in their homes or who are not mobile enough to take one out every day.

The At-Bristol Science Centre had also designed some engaging activities for children to take part in; one of these involved using a carpet with a city scape seen from above printed on it. Using stickers, children were invited to add information about their ideal mode of transport and then consider how this was comparable to a driverless vehicle. Several of the visiting children also had a ride in the pod and were able to sit in the Renault Twizy as well.

The VENTURER consortium also provided other forms of learning activities, including a series of questions and a quiz using the Big Screen overlooking Millennium Square and there was even a ‘selfie board’ for those who are really big driverless car fans!


– Izzy Kongsgaard, Bristol City Council

VENTURER Trial 2 Participant Experiments

During the months of June and July, VENTURER undertook the second tranche of experiments. Trial 2, held at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, involved examining human reactions to the decisions made by an autonomous vehicle at junctions and while interacting with conventional vehicles.

Participants engaged in a series of repeated scenarios in both the Wildcat and VENTURER Simulator, and were asked to rate their ability to trust the decisions made by the vehicle.

The scenarios were designed to mirror the experiences of an everyday driver on UK roads and included overtaking a parked vehicle with a vehicle oncoming and turning left and right into and out of junctions while detecting passing vehicles.

It is expected that the findings from Trial 2 will help to inform future research around Connected and Autonomous Vehicles’ (CAVs) abilities to integrate with other traffic on UK roads.

Two of the participants that took part in the Trial 2 experiments were Kurt, who has 28 years driving experience and Megan, who has just 5 years of experience.

Kurt, when asked to reflect on his time in the Wildcat vehicle, stated that “what was interesting was that I trusted the car even though it makes different decisions to what I would have made if I was driving” and importantly, he never felt that the vehicle’s decisions were unsafe. Regarding the interactions with other vehicles, he felt that the car was “perfectly fine with cars crossing its path”.

Although he could see how the Wildcat and VENTURER simulator experiments were comparable, he felt more at ease in the Wildcat than the simulator as he found it easier to concentrate on the vehicle’s movements due to the sensations of the engine and the scenarios felt more real-life.

Megan also felt safe in both the simulator and the road-vehicle claiming that “at no point did I think it was going to crash or it was going to be unsafe”. She felt that although the vehicle was often “cautious around junctions”, she didn’t feel nervous at all and thought that the CAV “made decisions that a normal driver would have in certain situations”.

When asked to consider the biggest barriers to wide scale CAV adoption, Kurt and Megan had differing views. Through Kurt’s exploration of CAV trials in the news and through technology blogs he is aware that projects like VENTURER and the existence of technologies such as adaptive cruise control are proving that technological progress is occurring at a rapid rate. As such, Kurt felt that “human attitudes and behaviours towards driverless cars are the biggest barrier” currently preventing wide scale adoption of CAVs rather than the technology enabling them. Megan, on the other hand, stated that she felt the most challenging aspect would be stepping-up the technology’s abilities from functioning in a controlled environment to functioning in the real road.

Neither Megan or Kurt felt that CAVs are yet fully equipped to anticipate and react to the unpredictable driving behaviours that human drivers exhibit on UK roads and can see why projects like VENTURER are so important in improving this.

Kurt also suggested that pedestrian attitudes towards CAVs might be counter intuitive as their greater confidence when stepping into the road in front of autonomous vehicles may lead to increased jaywalking. While this may be positive for the safety of pedestrians and other road users, this could result in delays on the road network and slower journeys. Despite these issues, he agrees that it may be possible to mitigate against the issues surrounding pedestrians taking advantage of driverless vehicles by making CAVs indistinguishable from normal cars.

Both Kurt and Megan identified an autonomous vehicle’s ability to interact with pedestrians as a concern. This is something that VENTURER will explore extensively during Trial 3 as it is a crucial issue that needs to be assessed before driverless cars can be safely deployed onto UK roads. Furthermore, CAV technology’s ability to cope in real world will also be put to the test in Trial 3 when VENTURER will demonstrate an autonomous vehicle in more complex scenarios in the Bristol and South Gloucestershire region.