VENTURER Trial 1 Results: Press Release

VENTURER driverless car project publishes results of first trial:

‘Planned handover’ key to development of driverless car technology say researchers

VENTURER is the first Connected and Autonomous Vehicle project to start in the UK. The results of VENTURER’s preliminary trials show that the handover process is a safety critical issue in the development of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs).

The first VENTURER trials set out to investigate ‘takeover’ (time taken to reengage with vehicle controls) and ‘handover’ (time taken to regain a baseline/normal level of driving behaviour and performance) when switching frequently between automated and manual driving modes within urban and extra-urban settings.  This trial is believed to be the first to directly compare handover to human driver-control from autonomous mode in both simulator and autonomous road vehicle platforms.

The handover process is important from a legal and insurance perspective – the length of time it takes people to regain full control of the vehicle represents a meaningful risk to insurers and understanding when control is transferred between the vehicle and the driver has liability implications.

David Williams from AXA outlined that “The results of this trial have been very useful as we consider the issues that the handover process raises for insurers. Although some motor manufacturers have said they will skip SAE Level 3, some are progressing with vehicles that will require the driver to take back control of the vehicle. The insurance industry will need to assess the relative safety of the handover systems as they come to market but VENTURER’s trial 1 results show that with robust testing we can properly assess how humans and autonomous vehicles interact during this crucial phase of the technologies’ evolution.”

VENTURER designed, tested and analysed both simulator and road vehicle-based handover trials.

50 participants were tested in a simulator and/or in the autonomous vehicle on roads on UWE Bristol campus. The tests were at speeds of 20, 30, 40 and 50 mph in the simulator and 20 mph in the autonomous vehicle; speeds common in urban and extra-urban settings. Baseline driving behaviour of participants was also tested, and then the length of time it took them to return to this baseline following handover.

During the trial, the driver was aware that they might be alerted to take control of the vehicle at any moment, either due to the decisions made by the driver, or the capabilities of the vehicle in particular situations. VENTURER has classified this as planned handover.

The 20- and 30- mph scenarios involved town/city urban driving and the 40- and 50- mph scenarios involved outer-town/city extra-urban driving. Driving speed, lateral lane position, and braking behaviour (amongst other measures) were taken.

A key finding is that it took 2-3 seconds for participants to ‘takeover’ manual controls and resume active driving after short periods of autonomous driving in urban environments.

They also found that participants drove more slowly than the recommended speed limit for up to 55 seconds following a handover request, which suggests more cautious, but not necessarily safer, driving. This could be important for traffic management – if drivers on the road replicated this behaviour it might impact the flow of traffic and mitigate some of the predicated benefits of AVs.

In addition, participants returned to their baseline manual driving behaviour after handover within 10-20 seconds, with most measures including speed, stabilising after 20-30 seconds. This was not the case within the highest speed simulator condition where stabilisation did not seem to occur on most measures within the 55 second measured handover period.

The team says these results have implications for the designers of autonomous vehicles with handback functionality, for example, in terms of phased handover systems. The results also inform the emerging market for insurance for autonomous vehicles.

Chair of the project, Lee Woodcock (Atkins) said, “The outcome of this research for trial one is significant and must provide food for thought as the market develops for driverless cars and how we progress through the different levels of automation. Further research must also explore interaction not just between vehicles but also with network operations and city management systems.”

Dr Phillip Morgan (UWE Bristol) said, “Designers need to proceed with caution and consider human performance under multiple driving conditions and scenarios in order to plot accurate takeover and handover time safety curves. In the time it takes for drivers to reach their baseline behaviour, the vehicle may have travelled some distance, depending on the speed. These initial trials show that there are some risk elements in the handover process and bigger studies with more participants may be needed to ensure there is sufficient data to build safe handover support systems.”

Professor Graham Parkhurst (UWE Bristol) said, “The results of these tests suggest that autonomous vehicles on highways should slow to a safe speed before handover is attempted. Further research is required to clarify what that safe speed is, but it would be substantially slower than the 70 mph motorway limit, and somewhat lower than the highest speed (50 mph) considered in our simulator trials.”

The trial clearly demonstrated that there were no major differences between control of the simulator and the Wildcat platforms used within the trial, validating the future use of simulators for the development of autonomous vehicles and associated technologies.


The full report can be found here:

VENTURER Trial 1 Results: Planned Handover

The VENTURER consortium’s first trial, completed in the summer of 2016, explored how people interact with autonomous vehicle technology. The trial took place at Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) and on the roads at the University of the West of England (UWE, Bristol) campus. Using the UWE driving simulator and the BAE Systems Wildcat, VENTURER sought to further understand planned handover with drivers of varying levels of experience, in environments and at speeds typical of day to day driving in urban areas.

Planned handover is when control of a vehicle is transferred from an autonomous system to the manual driver after an auditory handover request. The request is planned rather than an unplanned emergency, representing a situation where the vehicle knows it is approaching a situation it is not capable of handling, for example approaching a section of road with multiple hazards that the vehicle might not be able to process and respond to. This reflects vehicle capability at Levels 3/4 of vehicle autonomy (SAE, 2014).

VENTURER believe that understanding the process of handover is key to informing current debates on the future configuration of autonomous driving systems. The preliminary data from the project’s first trial can help frame the specifications for autonomous driving control systems and their safe operation when there is the option for both autonomous and manual driving control. Thorough understanding of this area is crucial as this may be the situation during the initial phases of deployment of AVs onto UK roads.

To investigate this, 50 participants undertook experiments in the UWE driving simulator and/or the BAE Systems Wildcat in order to form a comparison of the handover process across multiple platforms. We believe that this research is unique in that it was the first trial to directly compare handover back to manual driving from autonomous mode across both driving simulator and road vehicle platforms during short driving scenarios with fairly frequent handover requests. The findings of the study are outlined and explored in the documents below.

Download the Trial 1 Summary Report here: VENTURER Trial 1 Planned Handover – Summary

Download the full Trial 1 Technical Report here: VENTURER Trial 1 Planned Handover – Technical Report

Interactions between a driverless car and other vehicles at junctions – an overview of Trial 2

VENTURER will undertake three trials in order to asses user responses to driverless cars. The first of these trials has now been concluded and the results will be published online in June 2017

Trial 2 will test our autonomous vehicle interacting with other vehicles at junctions on the University of the West of England campus. Trial 2 will also involve participant trials in which we will consider user responses to the emerging technology.

You can keep up to date on the trial’s progress by following us on Twitter (@Venturer_cars) and by keeping an eye out for new blogs on the website.

The Economic Impact of CAVs in the West of England

Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) present an interesting conundrum in the West of England. Depending on the view point, CAV can be seen as an industry, cluster, technology or application. In essence, it is an amalgamation of all the above. The prevailing technology that has enabled CAV research and development (R&D) projects such as VENTURER to emerge has been around for a number of years, exploited in part by VENTURER partners. Bristol Robotics Lab (BRL) for example, has been developing robotics and autonomous systems since the early noughties. BAE Systems on the other hand, has been developing the Wildcat (a defence based vehicle with autonomous capability) over a similar timeline. So what’s new with CAV now and specifically, what value can VENTURER add? Well, the adoption of CAV technology on a widespread level has yet to be embraced, partly due to the fact that there are only a limited number of new vehicles with Level 4 autonomous capability (there are however, lots of new vehicles available in the UK market with driver assistance technology such as smart city braking or lane departure assist).

The opportunity for the West of England therefore, is to be the first mover and UK leader in developing innovative Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) and Artificial Intelligence/Human Machine Learning technology that can be fed into every part of the development and supply chain. No longer are we confined to technology readiness levels (TRL) 1-7 but Innovate UK funded R&D projects such as VENTURER provide platforms for technology to be developed which can be market exploitable and ultimately, commercially viable (TRL 8-10 for example). The Economic Impact Study VENTURER commissioned outlined that with a little more coordinated thinking and concerted effort, we have every chance to create the Gross Value Added (GVA) and jobs target as outlined at VENTURER’s inception phase. Using our initial analysis of what defines CAV, it’s clear to see a cluster definitely exists. There are a number of entities in the region all subsumed with CAV R&D as well as developing market ready technology (i.e. Fusion Processing, another VENTURER partner). CAV as a technology is reflected in the region through the expertise being developed at BRL and University of Bristol. Application wise, the local councils are keen to capitalise on the actual use of this technology on the local highway network (enabling people to get to work quicker and stress free for example, thus positively influencing productivity).

In summary, there are a number of direct and indirect economic impacts that CAV development and eventual deployment in the West of England region will achieve but the intrinsic benefits of this ever emerging technology/cluster/application/industry are yet to be clearly defined and indeed, embraced. One thing is for certain, the principle of innovation and technology in creating new commercial opportunities is something any stakeholder will relish. The West of England therefore, with its existing capabilities and competencies in high tech, digital and advanced engineering can creatively nurture this to happen by influencing new jobs, efficiency savings and catalysing new products and services.


By Abdul Choudhury – Economic Development Officer, South Gloucestershire Council

What is the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill?

The Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill (formerly known as the Modern Transport Bill) was published recently and received its Second Reading in the House of Commons on 6th March 2017. It contains a specific section on the insurance framework for automated vehicles and the key elements to highlight are:

  • Single insurer model;
  • Strict liability (effectively) on insurer to pay in first instance;
  • Rights of recovery under existing legislation i.e. contributory negligence and products liability;
  • Onus on owner to complete software updates and not to use the vehicle in a manner it was not intended for.

What does that mean in practice? Well, it provides a welcome retention of the status quo. In essence, what has been proposed is a recognisable, simple model of insurance that keeps people’s safety at its core. That can only be a good thing.

Secondly, it does not impose unrealistic levels of liability on OEMs and other third parties. By limiting the rights of recovery to existing laws the environment for innovation remains an attractive one. After all, everyone involved in projects like VENTURER recognises the potential positive impact this technology could have on society which is far broader than the interests of any one company in the consortium.

The UK Government has made it clear that it wants this country to be at the forefront of driverless technology. The difficulty it faces is balancing the need for appropriate legislation without stifling the fantastic R&D that is taking place in this ever evolving field. As we progress there will, of course, be other areas to address such as data sharing and cyber security for example, but happily the Bill is flexible enough to let that happen as and when is necessary. This is the first step.

As the debate noted yesterday, this is a relatively uncontroversial Bill and as a consequence is likely to progress fairly smoothly through Parliament. As and when it becomes law, the fundamental reason for mandatory motor insurance will have been retained – namely that road users and pedestrians are protected in the event of accidents.

What we have, then, in the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill is a workable framework that will help bring automated vehicles to our roads. There remain understandable questions about public trust, the decision making algorithms and others but all the research, evidence and opinion so far suggests that these vehicles have the capacity to make our roads much, much safer which is why the UK Government, Insurers, technology companies and everyone else involved are all pulling in the same direction.


By Daniel O’Byrne, AXA UK