Oxbotica, Addison Lee plot to beat Waymo in UK taxi race

Oxford university spinout Oxbotica has struck its first significant coup in a deal with London-wide taxi firm Addison Lee to develop a fleet of self-driving cars. This gained the firm national publicity and endorsement for one of its product lines, the Selenium software suite, integrating data from vehicle sensors for autonomous driving.

Addison Lee was attracted by early experience of the software in a trial called Driven, which tested six autonomous cars in urban roads and motorways around Oxford, to culminate in an end to end journey from London to Oxford. This 30-month project is currently running and due to end towards the end of 2019, while the Addison Lee development gets underway. With £8.6 million public funding from Innovate UK, this is testing self-driving at SAE Level 4, where complete autonomy without driver intervention is supported on specified routes.  The vehicles must be capable of performing all safety-critical driving functions and monitor road conditions for an entire trip, without deferring to drivers.

Addison Lee says it plans to develop autonomous vehicles in the UK capital, based on Oxbotica software, and have them running by 2021, subject of course to regulatory approval. For the first stage just getting underway, both partners are collaborating on creation of digital maps comprising more than 250,000 miles (400,000 Km) of public roads in and around London, with the position of “every kerb, road sign, landmark and traffic light” recorded. This will be the autonomous taxi equivalent of “the knowledge” which drivers of London’s traditional black taxis still have to learn.

Oxbiotica, launched in 2014 with £22.6 raised so far, has developed a second product line called Caesium for cloud-based fleet management. This has also gained one client, the online grocery delivery firm Ocado, again in London. It is being tried for delivery by small autonomous vans in a residential environment of Greenwich, where vehicles are scheduled and coordinated automatically. Caesium’s role is to facilitate exchange of data between vehicles, optimize routes and inform fleet managers where the vans are and expected arrival times at given customers.

Among start-up competitors are Bristol-based Five AI, which recently exhibited plans for driverless cars at an event at London’s Design Museum. It has developed eight blue Ford Mondeos which the company says cost $250,000 each, set up to collect road and traffic data. There are also of course the big players such as Google’s Waymo and Uber, although their initial priority for self-driving launches are outside the UK.