World first trial of Dudley firm's driverless vehicle is completed

The world’s first trial of a Black Country-built autonomous vehicle has been successfully completed in the Lake District.

Westfield
Westfield

The trial of Kingswinford firm by Westfield's Pod is said to be a huge breakthrough for driverless travel.

The Pod, designed and built by Westfield Technology Group, is a success story for British engineering, with the vehicle - and all of its parts - being built and assembled from its headquarters at Gibbons Industrial Park.

Its Pod is currently running at Brockhole Visitor Centre, near Windermere, and, in another breakthrough, doesn’t feature a safety steward on board.

The Westfield Pod

Westfield provides a virtual tour while in the Pod as it travels, as well as providing information on local events.

The vehicle is also equipped with the latest voice recognition technology to allow the visually impaired to feel more confident about the technology.

Westfield chief executive Julian Turner said that the trial represented a breakthrough in self-driving travel, with one in 10 vehicles predicted to be autonomous by 2030.

“It is working beautifully,” he said.

The Westfield Pod on the road

“We had the system thoroughly tested by independent parties Nexor (cyber security), Loughborough and AECOM for its technical operation, Burgess Salmon for the legal framework and Axa for the insurance and the results told us that this would be a successful trial of the technology in the beautiful environment of the Lake District National Park.

"Feedback from thousands of visitors has been extremely positive too, which makes us all really proud.”

The Pod is running on Westfield’s latest sensor payload and software to detect road conditions and obstacles in the road, and doesn’t require a driver or steering wheel.

Mr Turner believes that a marker has now been set by Westfield, which delivers more fully autonomous vehicles from its Black Country base than anyone else in the UK.

With the Lake District having over 19 million visitors a year, most arrive by car, there are congestion issues, the air quality is decreasing and there are huge transport connectivity issues in the area. The Pod could be an answer to provide emissions-free transport .

The Westfield Pod on the road

“Plans are already in place to deploy this technology on a larger commercial scale in the near future,” added Mr Turner .

The Pod itself contains biocomposites in the bodywork made from linseed oil and hemp, while a solar panel in the roof helps charge it while it is moving.

Many of the team who made the concept a reality were students originally recruited from Harper Adams University in Shropshire, Salford University, Cranfield University and Dudley College.

Westfield is also known for its niche sports cars, with over 20,000 sold worldwide

“While there are some obvious differences, the technology between the two are actually very similar," added Mr Turner.

"They both benefit from the same space frame chassis and fibre-glass body. All we have done is take our sports car technology and implement it into the passenger transport arena, whilst extending its autonomous capability."

He says that a shift towards connected, autonomous, shared and electric travel had been in the making for a number of years and would only become more prevalent from now on.

“As a nation, we are consuming things 12 times quicker than we are creating them, so something has got to change," he added.

"If you look at the whole life cycle of a typical car, it is just not an environmentally-friendly process, being manufactured in different parts of the world, being shipped over on a boat and incorporating a higher total life-cycle cost.

“I just can’t see a more efficient way of building or maintaining a vehicle than our Westfield Pod. We believe it will leave an impression on passenger travel for many, many more years to come."

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