A convoy of self-driving cars will be tested on the highways of Greater Manchester in 2018 as part of a trail-blazing £5 million research project investigating the future of road transport.
Project Synergy will see three autonomous, electric Westfield GTM cars trialled on public roads between Stockport Railway Station and Manchester Airport from January 2018 as part of a three-year study.
The project is one of several ventures supported by £35 million in government funding to explore whether self-driving vehicles can effectively reduce congestion, emissions and pollution, and offer innovative ways to improve road transport.
Following exhaustive assessment on race tracks and in wind tunnels, the Westfield GTM sport cars will now be tested in real-world conditions, at speeds of up to 70mph and as little as a couple of metres apart – a method known as ‘platooning’.
Initial testing has already taken place on the A6 to Manchester Airport Relief Road.
In the follow-up testing in 2018, a standby driver will travel in each car to take control if required. The driver can also use the car’s voice-activated artificial intelligence system to request a destination, with software automatically checking local road conditions and travel times to select the quickest route.
Tony Lloyd, interim mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “We’re always prepared to look at innovative solutions to the challenges sometimes faced by the travelling public and the critical issue of air pollution.
“Project Synergy is a really exciting initiative which could potentially lead in future to self-driving technologies being used in transport from buses to delivery vans.”
The development of electric and autonomous vehicles has been highlighted by the government as a key priority in its proposed Industrial Strategy.