Driverless shuttle begins 2km route trial in London

A prototype autonomous shuttle will begin driverless navigation of a 2km route around the Greenwich Peninsula in London, UK, today. Using advanced sensors and state-of-the-art autonomy software to detect and avoid obstacles, the shuttle will be carrying members of the public as part of a research study contributing to the GATEway Project (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment).

The GATEway Project, led by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) and funded by government industry, is aiming to demonstrate the viability of automated vehicles for “last mile” mobility. Rather than more traditional automation, which tends towards robotising existing transport, the project looks instead to enable new forms of mobility in urban environments using automation.

“Last mile” mobility, as related to the project’s automation specifically, is focused on connecting existing transport hubs with residential and commercial areas using a zero-emission, low-noise transport system. It is hoped that the shuttle trial will enable the researchers to judge public acceptance of, and attitudes towards, driverless vehicles.

“This research is another milestone in the UK’s journey towards driverless vehicles and a vital step towards delivering safer, cleaner and more effective transport in our cities,” summarised Professor Nick Reed, academy director at TRL commented.

“It is critical that the public are fully involved as these technologies become a reality. The GATEway Project is enabling us to discover how potential users of automated vehicles respond to them so that the anticipated benefits to mobility can be maximised. We see automated vehicles as a practical solution to delivering safe, clean, accessible and affordable last-mile mobility.”

Focusing on the aspect of public perception, participants will be involved before and after the shuttle ride. Residents and visitors to the Peninsula will also be invited to leave feedback via an interactive map. Beyond a test of the technology itself, significant in enabling the UK as a leader in automated technology, the research aims to provide sociological insight into one of the biggest changes in mobility in recent history.

Images courtesy of GATEway

The shuttle itself uses a state-of-the-art autonomy software system called Selenium, which enables real time, robust navigation, planning, and perception in dynamic environments. Selenium is described as “a vehicle-agnostic, sensor-agnostic autonomy solution”, meaning that it is designed for use across a wide range of vehicles, making use of onboard sensors to locate itself in its map, perceive and track dynamic obstacles around it, and plan a safe obstacle-free trajectory to the goal.

Operating without any reliance on GPS, the shuttle uses high data-rate 3D laser range finders for obstacle detection and tracking, and an additional safety curtain is used in order to maximise safety. A safety steward will be on-board at all times in compliance with automated vehicle testing practices.

The shuttle trial is one of a number of GATEway Project studies currently taking part to assess public reaction to automated vehicles in the UK.

DJI’s First Drone Arena in Tokyo to Open This Saturday

Consumer drone giant DJI will open its first Japanese drone arena in the city of Tokyo this Saturday, providing a space for both hardened professionals and curious newcomers to hone their flying skills.

The arena, which covers an area of 535 square metres, will not only include a large flying area complete with obstacles, but also offer a store where visitors can purchase the latest DJI drones and a technical support area where drone owners can get help with quadcopter issues.

The hope is that the arena will allow those who are curious about the technology but currently lack the space to try it out to get involved.

“As interest around our aerial technology continues to grow, the DJI Arena concept is a new way for us to engage not just hobbyists but also those considering this technology for their work or just for the thrill of flying,” said Moon Tae-Hyun, DJI’s director of brand management and operations.

“Having the opportunity to get behind the remote controller and trying out the technology first hand can enrich the customer experience. When people understand how it works or how easy it is to fly, they will discover what this technology can do for them and see a whole new world of possibilities.”

Images courtesy of DJI

In addition to its general sessions, which will allow members of the public to drop by and try their hand at flying drones, the arena will also offer private hire, including corporate events. For some companies, then, drone flying could become the new golf.

There will also be regular events, allowing pros to compete against one another, and drone training, in the form of DJI’s New Pilot Experience Program, for newcomers.

The arena has been launched in partnership with Japan Circuit, a developer of connected technologies, including drones.

“We are extremely excited to partner with DJI to launch the first DJI Arena in Japan,” said Tetsuhiro Sakai, CEO of Japan Circuit.

“Whether you are a skilled drone pilot or someone looking for their first drone, we welcome everyone to come and learn, experience it for themselves, and have fun. The new DJI Arena will not only serve as a gathering place for drone enthusiasts but also help us reach new customers and anyone interested in learning about this incredible technology.”

The arena is the second of its kind to be launched by DJI, with the first located in Yongin, South Korea, and detailed in the video above. .

Having opened in 2016, the area has attracted visitors from around the world, demonstrating serious demand for this type of entertainment space.

If the Tokyo launch goes well, it’s likely DJI will look at rolling out its arena concept to other cities, perhaps even bringing the model to the US and Europe.

For now, however, those who are interested can book time at the Tokyo arena here.

Commercial Human Spaceflight Advances Prompt Calls for Space Safety Institute

Commercial human spaceflight has been a long-held dream, but now it is finally poised to become a reality. Companies including Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are inching ever closer to taking private citizens into space, and there are serious plans for spaceports in several parts of the world, including Hawaii, the US, and Scotland, the UK.

But while the industry is advancing, the legal side of this fledgling commercial space industry remains underdeveloped, leading to calls for the development of an organisation to establish a framework for the safe operation of spaceports for human commercial spaceflights.

Writing in the journal New Space, Mclee Kerolle, from the United States International Institute of Space Law in Paris, France, has proposed the establishment of a Space Safety Institute recognised by the US congress and the United Nations.

This institute would “develop, enforce and adopt standards of excellence”, allowing the industry to develop while protecting it from liability and insurance risks.

“Currently, no international regulatory body exists to regulate the operation of spaceports,” he wrote. “This is unfortunate because while the advent of commercial human spaceflight industry is imminent, a majority of the focus from the legal community will be on regulating spaceflights and space access vehicles.

“However, the regulation of spaceports should be viewed in the same light as the rest of the commercial human spaceflight industry.”

The article focuses particularly on the establishment of a spaceport at the Kona International Airport in Keahole, Hawaii. At present, the spaceport’s development is subject to regulation by the Federal Aviation Authority, however there are aspects to spaceport development that do not apply to conventional aviation operations.

A spacesuit design for commercial flights developed by SpaceX. Featured image: SpaceX’s proposed spaceport for its conceptual interplanetary transport system. All images courtesy of SpaceX

The institute would be designed to first and foremost ensure safety within the industry, so it would be important, according to Kerolle, to ensure it was made up of individuals with expertise in the field, rather than bureaucrats.

“To make sure that this flexibility is inherent in a Space Safety Institute, the organization should be composed of individuals within the industry as opposed to government officials who are not familiar with the commercial human spaceflight industry,” he wrote.

“As a result, this should protect the commercial human spaceflight industry to some liability exposure, as well as promote growth in the industry to ensure the industry’s survival.”