Uk Startup Provides Glimpse Into the Future of Autonomous Public Transport

UK-based startup FiveAI will start a trial of its shared autonomous car fleet in two London suburbs in 2019. The trial will provide a glimpse into the possibilities of autonomous public transport, specifically designed with European cities in mind.

The aim of FiveAI is to deliver a fully autonomous shared transport service for Europe’s cities. The FiveAI team has found that cars, cabs and private hire vehicles take up nearly half of central London’s street space, but account for just over 10% of distance travelled. London drivers spend the equivalent of 17 days per year stuck in traffic and are looking for a better option than using their own vehicle. FiveAI aims to tackle these issues, making transport better for everyone.

One of FiveAI’s test cars

Once FiveAI successfully rolls out its driverless system, it for sure won’t be the first. Completely automatic and driverless public transport systems in the form of driverless subway lines, people movers, and commuter rail lines are found across the world. However, these driverless high-capacity systems are radically different to what FiveAI has envisioned. Platform screen doors, tunnels and elevated tracks, that other companies have designed, need a completely controlled environment. FiveAI wants to be on public roads but will also have to deal with real-world situations.

FiveAI will provide the greatest benefits to suburban dwellers in big cities

However, what is most innovative about FiveAI is that the system will tackle the issue of mobility in low density areas like Bromley and Croydon. “There are a lot of problems to solve there (central London), but they are very well served by current providers,” says Ben Peters, FiveAI’s VP of product. It is the low density outer zones of the city, where people depend on private vehicles for their commute. Public transport in the form of autonomous (electric) cars has great benefits over personal cars in suburban areas, and is more cost-efficient than mass rapid transit in this context. A system like FiveAI could provide a great addition to mainline train services and subway lines by feeding them with residents from outer city neighborhoods that would otherwise choose to use their car.

Before FiveAI’s cars are there to get you from your home to the nearest tube or overground station, the system will have go on trial for 10 months to gathering real-world sensor data to develop the shared driverless passenger service further. Testing is especially important in the European context as urban density, road layout and street markings are less universal than in the US, where a lot of autonomous vehicles are being developed. Starting from 2019, self-driving vehicles will be found driving around the boroughs of Bromley and Croydon.