Vince Cable Starts Britain’s Self-Driving Car Programme In Milton Keynes

Business Secretary Vince Cable has opened a £150 million government-sponsored centre in Milton Keynes to develop driverless cars and improve the country’s transport networks across air, land and sea.

The facility, called the “Imovation Centre”, is part of the Transport Systems Catapult, a public sector initiative that is expected to put £712 million back into the economy over the next five years.

The Imovation Centre will look for solutions to the UK’s transport problems using Big Data analytics and advanced simulations. It will engage and support start-ups in the relevant markets and set up meetings between representatives of various transport agencies that might not have otherwise met.

Self driving cars

The centre will be trialling three British-made self-driving cars (prototype shown here) sometime next year. It expects to run a fully operational fleet of 100 autonomous vehicles by 2017.

“If we can get this right, this will be something where Britain is leading the world,” said Cable. “I think we’re seeing what is potentially a very, very important departure.”

Transport Systems Catapult is the UK’s seventh Catapult project. All of them are modelled after organisations seen in Germany and Scandinavian countries, offering a way for the government to encourage innovative businesses and address the issues of national importance.

The humorously named Centre will serve as a base for a number of projects, and fulfil several purposes.

Most importantly, it will draw together data from sources including commercial navigation companies, satellite operators, rail networks, meteorological services, airports and universities to create the most detailed representation of the UK’s transport networks ever made, and predict how they could develop in the future.

Dr Paul Zanelli, CTO of the Transport Systems Catapult, told TechWeekEurope that the market is currently undergoing a huge change. Before, transport was something that was “done to people” but today, customers want to choose where and how they travel, depending on their priorities.


“We can now know how people want to move, so we should be able to fit the provisioning of transport to meet that demand, rather than the other way around,” said Zanelli.

That’s why the centre is working with Oxford University, the Automotive Council, and industry partners to launch 100 driverless LUTZ Pathfinder ‘pods’ that can be booked with smartphone by 2017.

Other projects include the first nationwide “sentiment map” that measures how the commuters feel about their journey by tapping into social media feeds. It will be used by transport operators to analyse customer behaviour and improve their services.

The Transport Systems Catapult is backed by the Technology Strategy Board, Met Office, Network Rail, First Group and National Air Traffic Services. More organisations could join the framework in the future.

Previously launched Catapult initiatives include the Connected Digital Economy Catapult, the Future Cities Catapult and the Satellite Application Catapult.

Imovation Centre

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Imovation Centre

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Max Smolaks

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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