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David Huntley

Self-driving shuttle bus service to be piloted in Sunderland after £6m cash injection

Futuristic looking self-driving and zero emission shuttles will be piloted in Sunderland after receiving £6m in government and industry funding.

The Sunderland Advanced Mobility Shuttle project will trial three self-driving zero emission Aurrigo Auto-Shuttles, which will transport passengers on public roads between Sunderland Interchange, Sunderland Royal Hospital, and the University of Sunderland City Campus.

The project is hoped to be an important step towards commercial deployment and safety drivers will always be onboard the shuttles. The project has been awarded £3m by the government, matched by industry which totals £6 million and is led by Sunderland City Council in partnership with Aurrigo, Stagecoach, ANGOKA Ltd, Newcastle University, Swansea University, and BAI Communications.

Read more: 'Bigger, better, and bolder' – Michael Gove's promise as £4.2bn North East devolution deal is signed

Another initiative, Project V-CAL, which is led by the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA), will run up to four zero-emission autonomous HGVs around the Nissan Sunderland site and on private roads where the vehicles will navigate traffic lights, roundabouts, and other road users.

The work, in partnership with Vantec, Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK (NMUK), StreetDrone, Nokia, Newcastle University, ANGOKA, and Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP, has been awarded £4 million by the government, matched by industry which totals £8 million. The HGVs will operate without any personnel on board but will be monitored by a remote safety driver as backup.

Liz St Louis, director of Smart Cities at Sunderland City Council, said: “Leveraging the power of 5G technology and Sunderland’s leading smart city infrastructure, the focus of our ambitious project partners is underpinned by an ethos of leaving no one and nowhere behind.

“Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAVs) will provide huge social, industrial and economic benefits across the world and we’re hugely optimistic about a technology-fuelled future, powered by local expertise, right here in Sunderland.”

The two Sunderland projects were awarded a share of £84 million in joint government and industry support for self-driving transport technology - £42 million in government funding is being matched by a further £42 million from industry. The grants are part of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles Connected and Automated Mobility programme which is hoped to help UK companies seize early opportunities to develop experimental projects into offerings ready for the market.

Paul Butler, CEO at the North East Automotive Alliance, said: “The North East region is uniquely placed to develop, test and commercialise Connected and Autonomous Logistics (CAL) projects. It is home to a critical mass of local manufacturing industry, with ambitious growth plans. We are delighted to be awarded V-CAL project funding to be able to scale and expand the initial 5G CAL proof of concept, which ended in 2022, and provide two real industrial use cases for the scale and deployment of connected and autonomous logistics.

“The scale of commercial deployment for CAL is enormous, hundreds of thousands of similar logistic journeys are undertaken on private roads each day within the UK. This is an opportunity to build resilience in our important logistics sector and for the UK to take a leading role in the development and commercialisation of CAL technologies.”

The projects are two of seven successful projects from around the UK, which form the most advanced set of commercial, self-driving passenger and freight operations anywhere in the world.

Business Secretary Grant Shapps said: “In just a few years’ time, the business of self-driving vehicles could add tens of billions to our economy and create tens of thousands of jobs across the UK. This is a massive opportunity to drive forward our priority to grow the economy, which we are determined to seize.

“The support we are providing today will help our transport and technology pioneers steal a march on the global competition, by turning their bright ideas into market-ready products sooner than anyone else.”

It is anticipated self-driving vehicles could revolutionise public transport and passenger travel, especially for those who don’t drive, better connect rural communities and reduce road collisions caused by human error. Forecasts predict that by 2035, 40% of new UK car sales will have self-driving capabilities, with a total market value for connected and automated mobility worth £41.7 billion to the UK.

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