Private hire firm Addison Lee and Oxbotica, the British leader in self-driving vehicle software, have taken the first steps toward autonomous driving in the capital by launching a 3D street mapping exercise in London’s iconic Canary Wharf.
The mapping process signals the start of the minicab operators quest to introduce autonomous services by 2021. The companies, together with Canary Wharf Group and insurer AXA XL, have already started the process, using a vehicle equipped with mapping technology to record every kerb, road sign, landmark and traffic light in Canary Wharf’s 128-acre estate. This is the first stage of a mapping exercise across London, where more than 250,000 miles of public roads will be mapped in order to better understand the requirements for rolling out a fully autonomous service. Mark Nallen, Head of Technology and Innovation at Canary Wharf Group, said: “With an expanding estate, and visitor and commuter numbers growing, we need to plan our future transport needs, and the mapping exercise with our partners at Addison Lee Group, Oxbotica and AXA XL is the first stage on this journey.” Partnership vehicles have already started the mapping exercise, with radars that help Oxbotica understand the environment, cameras to take in images of the streets and lidar sensors that send out laser pulses to sense the surroundings. This enables Oxbotica to build a rich 3D map of the area, which is then analysed to identify important features such as traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and road markings. Oxbotica will use this data to help understand the contents of street signs, and the meanings of the lane markings on the road to enable the vehicle to be “as knowledgeable as a local resident” about the complexities of each street. The company will repeat this process many times, and at different times, improving the understanding of how the streets change in different lighting conditions, weather and seasons of the year. When the autonomous vehicle travels down these same streets, it builds the same picture and matches it to the map, using the knowledge about traffic light location and lane markings to help localise itself and be aware of what’s around the next corner. Autonomous vehicles could be part of the answer to urban transport Oxbotica’s insurance partner, AXA XL – a division of AXA – is insuring the exercise. AXA XL has significant experience in the field of autonomous technologies, having signed a landmark agreement with Oxbotica in 2016 to examine the technology’s potential impact on risk management. In May 2018, it announced a suite of insurance solutions to support the commercial adoption of mobile robotic solutions. Canary Wharf Group’s Nallen said: “Canary Wharf now has over 120,000 daily commuters and around 30,000 visitors coming to the Estate every day. Canary Wharf Group has consistently pioneered new technologies to ensure tenants have access to the best possible infrastructure. Transport is clearly vital to any growing population and as public transport routes become more heavily used, it is crucial we provide additional capacity to meet the increasing scale of their transport needs. We believe the types of services envisaged by Addison Lee Group and Oxbotica could be part of the solution and we are delighted to be at the forefront of autonomous vehicle innovation.” Andy Boland, Addison Lee Group’s CEO, said: “With its’ campus-style arrangement and high number of commuters, Canary Wharf is the perfect place to begin our mapping of London with Oxbotica and a possible location for new Addison Lee Group services.” Speaking on the importance of the partnership, Vincent Branch, Chief Executive of Accelerate, AXA XL’s innovation team, said: “Autonomous technologies will – in the near future – directly impact our working environments, the design of our cities and transport infrastructures. This ground-breaking mapping project positions Addison Lee Group and Canary Wharf at the forefront of this exciting development and we are delighted, along with Oxbotica, to be enabling it.”