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RCA Lead Academic Partner for Stakeholder Engagement in British Driverless Car Trial

A fully autonomous shuttle has been unveiled in Greenwich for the first time. Part of the British Government’s push to make driverless cars a reality on Britain’s roads, the shuttle is one of four projects currently being trialled across the UK.

The Royal College of Art is taking the lead research role in stakeholder engagement activities for the £8 million Royal Borough of Greenwich GATEway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) investigation into the viability of driverless vehicles in urban environments, commissioned by InnovateUK.

The project aims to demonstrate that the UK is the go-to place for the development, testing and roll-out of driverless vehicles and the benefits that they bring, and is led by TRL (the Transport Research Laboratory) with the Royal Borough of Greenwich as the testing location and ‘Smart City’ partner, supported by international insurer RSA, global energy and petrochemical company Shell and international telecommunications company Teléfonica.

The RCA’s user engagement research will focus on investigating how to drive social change to overturn the preponderance of car owners, with a focus on barriers that have to be overcome not only in the development of driverless vehicles but also in their public acceptance, and an aim of providing insight for legislators, insurers and law enforcers on the operation of driverless systems. This will take place in partnership with pedestrian modelling by the University of Greenwich and cybersecurity by Imperial College London.

User engagement research will work 'upstream' talking to manufacturers and software providers, and 'downstream' talking to people who will use or be affected by driverless vehicles. The RCA’s input will help to ensure that the outcomes of the project enhance social benefit, so that the public have confidence in the technology. It will also help to guarantee that learning from the trials is robust so that legal, regulation and protection issues are considered from the outset.

In addition to user engagement through workshops with existing and potential users of driverless cars, other road-users will be consulted, including traditional drivers and vulnerable groups (such as pedestrians, cyclists and wheelchair users), as well as criminals and perpetrators of antisocial behaviour, to discover existing attitudes and user perspectives on driverless vehicles. The RCA will use co-creation to explore alternatives, and the project will use technical trials and evidence of broader sentiment mapping around trials and associated activities, gathered by project partner Commonplace, to provide in-depth insights to inform the development of systems, interfaces, and broader questions of implementation and policy.

The project will create a world-leading test-bed for driverless cars, enabling automotive and other industries, planners, policy makers and others to evaluate both new vehicles and innovative technologies applied to existing vehicles, and to understand the human behaviours and attitudes emerging around these emerging forms of transport. Users of the test-bed, and other beneficiaries of the research, will be enabled to implement driverless car systems and policies that are more successful in technical capability, public acceptance, freedom from crime and accessibility.

The RCA brings the benefits of a track record of successful evidence-based design research, including methods of design ethnography that have a strong strand of user engagement and a whole-systems approach, developed by lead researchers Professor Dale Harrow and Rama Gheerawo in collaborative projects with industry over the past ten years. The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design’s ambulance redesign project provides a strong model, as it worked at a systemic level, addressing what it means to transport patients to care. In addition, the RCA have expertise in working with wide range of user groups, the possibility of proposing designs as a tool of enquiry, and cross-disciplinary experience that allows meaningful collaboration with colleagues from other disciplines, such as engineering and software.

Cars are already becoming increasingly automated and, ultimately, have the potential to operate, at least in part, autonomously. RCA Head of Vehicle Design Dale Harrow says, ‘Driverless cars are coming in some shape or form, and this project provides an opportunity to get the planning right from the outset. And there are good reasons to want them, when 90 per cent of vehicle accidents are the result of human error, and driverless vehicles can dramatically reduce the need for the city parking that currently consumes so much of our streets. Sustainability is also key, particularly among younger citizens who would use a good driverless car facility in preference to owning a car’.

Project outcomes will be disseminated to increase public awareness and acceptance in the UK and on the world stage, through traditional exhibitions, in Greenwich and venues designed to reach urban audiences, through publications and using virtual models that will be available over the web, as well as social media and press material designed to have an international reach that goes beyond the limits of physical display. The RCA will also contribute to the delivery of standards and guidelines and provide a roadmap for future innovation, which will be designed to create new skills and knowledge for development of new products, services and processes.

Click here for more information about the GATEway project.