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Transportation United Kingdom

UK Town To Get Driverless 'Pods' Mixing With Pedestrians 111

Posted by Soulskill
from the when-do-we-get-autonomous-segways dept.
Bruce66423 writes "Milton Keynes is the most successful new town in the U.K., being built on a green field site from the '60s onward. Initially famous for concrete cows, it is the home of the Open University, which offers college-level courses at home. Now, the U.K. Business Secretary has announced plans to have small driverless cars shuttle people around parts of the town starting in 2015. There will be about 20 of the pod-like vehicles to start, each capable of holding two people. They will have their own pathways and move at about 12mph. The plan is to continue developing and testing the vehicles, and by 2017, 100 of them will share walkways with pedestrians."
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UK Town To Get Driverless 'Pods' Mixing With Pedestrians

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  • by retech (1228598) on Friday November 08, 2013 @09:45AM (#45367805)
    With the chronic obesity issues modern societies face, you may as well just put large scoops on the front of these to make it easier to pick up and drop off their human cargo.
  • Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ledow (319597) on Friday November 08, 2013 @09:47AM (#45367833) Homepage

    For the benefit of non-UK residents:

    Milton Keynes is the butt of every joke going.

    You could put free money in it, and people would still drive around it to avoid it.

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Manic Miner (81246) on Friday November 08, 2013 @09:57AM (#45367929) Homepage
      While that's a fair comment - it is the butt of jokes. However it is usually from people who've never actually lived there, and those who are such bad drivers they can't cope with a roundabout ;) It's build on a grid system, so would be familiar to US readers, only instead of traffic light intersections it has roundabouts. What this means in practice is that using the major roads it's possible to get everywhere quickly and easily, even in rush hour you don't get caught for too long. Because these grid roads are also isolated from the housing areas, usually by banks or trees the road noise is not too bad either, and it has lots of parks open space and water. Yes it's a bit soulless but practically it's very well thought out.
      • by Hatta (162192)

        only instead of traffic light intersections it has roundabouts. What this means in practice is that using the major roads it's possible to get everywhere quickly and easily, even in rush hour you don't get caught for too long.

        Roundabouts break down in high traffic. When a roundabout is at full capacity, you have to throw yourself into moving traffic without regard for safety. At least traffic lights give everyone a chance to go.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          What's really needed is for municipalities to produce high-quality real-time traffic data and broadcast it for free to anyone in the area in which it is relevant. Commercial and/or volunteer services can relay it to interested far away parties. Then your GPS can make intelligent decisions about where you should go so as not to bog down the road network.

        • Roundabouts break down in high traffic. When a roundabout is at full capacity, you have to throw yourself into moving traffic without regard for safety. At least traffic lights give everyone a chance to go.

          I'm assuming that's why the larger roundabouts have traffic lights. This seems to be better than the alternative, which is to have more than a single digit percentage of road users who know how box junctions work.

      • by nukenerd (172703)

        While that's a fair comment - it is the butt of jokes. However it is usually from people who've never actually lived there, and those who are such bad drivers they can't cope with a roundabout ;)

        You don't need to live there to encounter the roundabouts, and you do not have to be a bad driver to dislike them. The first time I drove my son to uni my route (A421) took me through that area. Every roundabout caused a luggage avalanche, and they were every few hundred yards for no apparent good reason. Perhaps they came into their own in the rush hour, but this wasn't. Found a different route next time.

        The place looked so dreary that I asked my son (who was map-reading) where the heart of the cit

    • by MiggyMan (227116)

      It's like they took a town and sucked out all of the joy and soul.

      And added roundabouts.

      I do like the train stations though.

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by andyjb (1625561) on Friday November 08, 2013 @10:27AM (#45368261)
      ...stealing a great line from Terry Pratchett: Note for Americans and other aliens: Milton Keynes is a new city approximately halfway between London and Birmingham. It was built to be modern, efficient, healthy, and, all in all, a pleasant place to live. Many Britons find this amusing.
    • Well, I lived there six years, and for the first four I couldn't wait to leave, but grew very fond of it in the last two. Not the architecture or the public transport hostile, spread out grid system, but the cultural side of Milton Keynes appeared to be flourishing in that time, and appears to continue to do so.

      Numerous art centres, live music venues and leisure facilities, an active centre of business of commerce, and engulfing and adjoining various very pretty, but relatively affordable towns such as Ston

  • by Rande (255599) on Friday November 08, 2013 @09:55AM (#45367913) Homepage

    It's that unsupervised, these things and things like it will be vandalized, stolen, and used as public toilets.

    • by Xest (935314) on Friday November 08, 2013 @10:04AM (#45368009)

      You could say the same about Boris bikes in London but I don't think that's really been the case to date, though I haven't followed their story closely so maybe I'm wrong.

    • Isn't that what they said about Boris Bikes?
    • by Jeremi (14640)

      It's that unsupervised, these things and things like it will be vandalized, stolen, and used as public toilets.

      They could mitigate this problem by requiring a credit card to enter, and keeping a video camera trained on the occupants. People misbehave less when they know they'll be held accountable.

      • by nukenerd (172703)

        It's that unsupervised, these things and things like it will be vandalized, stolen, and used as public toilets.

        They could mitigate this problem by requiring a credit card to enter,

        You're telling me that vandals need a credit card to vandalise something these days? I must be falling behind the times.

  • To me it sounds a lot like an implementation of 'Personal Rapid Transit', and it's hardly 'mixing with pedestrians' if they're getting their own dedicated pathways.

    • it's hardly 'mixing with pedestrians' if they're getting their own dedicated pathways.

      Aren't these dedicated pathways just for a limited time transition period, until the system will be fully debugged...?

      • by Firethorn (177587)

        Doesn't say so in the article, making me think they'd have to be more or less permanent.

        Besides, you can't really debug 'safe around people/crowds' unless your vehicle actually encounters them. One would have a better shot at 'until technology allowing them to coexist with pedestrians is developed', but that's likely long enough that at that point you'd deploy a new solution entirely.

  • Milton Keynes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Milton Keynes is an awful, car-dominated dystopia

    It's like what someone living in the 1970s thought a nice new town would be like

  • "Note for Americans and other aliens: Milton Keynes is a new city approximately halfway between London and Birmingham. It was built to be modern, efficient, healthy, and, all in all, a pleasant place to live. Many Britons find this amusing." -- T. Pratchett and N. Gaiman, Good Omens

    We used to go bowling there when I was little as it was the only place within an hour's drive with a bowling alley... I mostly remember parts being very empty and then almost never-ending lines of roundabouts (although at leas

    • by Patch86 (1465427)

      and then almost never-ending lines of roundabouts (although at least they were in straight lines unlike Swindon)...

      Well where's the fun in that?

      - A Swindonian.

  • I live in an area where there are a lot of road-crossing deer. I can't wait for the day when there are driverless cars so we can retire the idea of using a huge piece of glass to protect us from road hazards. Looks like they're on the right track with this gizmo. (However, if they deploy it on a UK campus, it'll only take about a day before someone covers the bottom with black half-sphere and slaps on an eye-stalk.)

  • by captainpanic (1173915) on Friday November 08, 2013 @10:20AM (#45368179)

    The Netherlands has built a dedicated infrastructure for vehicles moving at around 12 mph on average, for one or two people. They are bike lanes, and it totally rules. The Netherlands has by far the highest percentage of cyclists, and a very low number of accidents.

    So, I applaud the initiative to build some pathways where cars are banned, but I hope that these people do themselves a favor and allow cyclists to use these paths too. At least with a bike you don't have to wait for some pod to pass by, because it is already parked in front of the door. And in case of a hurry, you can just bike a bit faster.

    Special pathways without cars: good idea.
    Slow small expensive pods: probably a useless idea.

    • by mjwalshe (1680392)
      yes but MK is car central the pedestrian crossings from one side of main shopping center have big signs saying that cars have priority on a pedestrian crossing FFS.
      • by jez9999 (618189)

        I wish. They used to have that but they took them down. Now presumably I'm expected to stop for those pesky pedestrians.

    • Milton Keynes already did this with the Redways. Complete separate system of parts for bikes. Which, according to cycling expert John Franklin, turned out to be utter crap. Two decades of the Redway cycle paths in Milton Keynes. [slashdot.org]
      • Sounds to me like the people having cycle accidents on redways are people that are cycling too fast for the conditions.

        Just like with cars, a percentage of people seem oblivious to the way more speed adds more risk.

    • by louic (1841824)

      Slow small expensive pods: probably a useless idea.

      Except for a pub crawl.

  • by ArsenneLupin (766289) on Friday November 08, 2013 @10:24AM (#45368227)

    Initially the driverless cars will ferry passengers from the town's rail station to its shopping centre just over a mile away – currently a 20-minute uphill walk.

    Both ways?

  • Alternatively (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rossdee (243626) on Friday November 08, 2013 @10:25AM (#45368241)

    You could get safer road with (I)Pod-less drivers (And iPadless and iPhoneless too of course)

    Milton Keynes ? Wasn't he an economist?
    and maybe a poet...

  • A similar system was demonstrated in Switzerland 10 years ago, but was considered as not viable and never implemented since.

    http://www.google.com/translate?hl=en&ie=UTF8&sl=auto&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.serpentine.ch%2Fp_realisations%2FPilote_Ouchy.html [google.com] (sorry original site only in french)

    • The same system they are going to use in Milton Keynes is already on use at Heathrow airport ferrying passengers between terminals.

  • ... but never lived there. It is a terrible place to live. For you Yanks, think 1960's NY City + Chicago combined with a touch of muslims (no offence).
    • And 60's NYC was bad how? I lived there, it totally ruled! It got even more fun in the 70's. Now Times Square is an antiseptic hell hole of Disney and other plastic megacorps.
    • but never lived there. It is a terrible place to live.

      But how would you know?

      combined with a touch of muslims (no offence).

      Just because you say it in brackets, doesn't make it true.

  • I wonder how long it will take for the locals to devise ways of griefing these pods - forcing them to stop dead if they detect a plastic bottle in their way, slapping a burger wrapper over the sensors or something similar. I could see the entire system failing right there. It's a problem that self driving cars would face assuming they ever moved beyond a pipe dream.
    • by timeOday (582209)
      Sure, what's to stop a punk from knifing the tires on your car at any time? Nothing.
      • by nukenerd (172703)

        Sure, what's to stop a punk from knifing the tires on your car at any time? Nothing.

        Psychology. They know there would be a shitstorm which can make them uncomfotable even if not caught and convicted. However, people generally seem to regard vandalism to communal property as something inevitable, just a matter to shrug off as part of modern life.

      • by DrXym (126579)
        Knifing tyres is criminal damage. Throwing a coke bottle on the line is littering. It's easier to get away with. It's also easier to retreat to a safe distance and watch as a stupid system fails to safe over a coke bottle (or a strategically placed wrapper) and backs up all the way down the system. If the designers of this system don't don't anticipate this they don't understand human nature.
  • by rreay (50160) on Friday November 08, 2013 @11:23AM (#45368871)

    Pod systems like this should always carry three passengers. If you are traveling with a group, 2 passenger pods can force part of your group to ride alone. Carrying 3 lets people ride with the group for groups any size.

  • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Friday November 08, 2013 @12:16PM (#45369565) Homepage Journal

    Let's put motorized carriages on the walk ways to harass, annoy and run over those on foot.
    Don't like it? Get in a pod or get in a car or take the bus.

    Even here in America we aren't as hostile to pedestrians.

  • They shall soon acquire the scent of urine and vomit.

    • They shall soon acquire the scent of urine and vomit.

      Yes, when the doors open. This is Milton Keynes we're talking about after all.

  • Just as long as the pods are not giant white balls [retroweb.com]

  • Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit [wikipedia.org] entered operation in 1975. The PRT system includes 73 vehicles resembling miniature buses. It has five off-line stations that enable non-stop, individually programmed trips.

    • Aramis was the high tech automated subway developed in Paris in the 1980s. After its sudden demise an investigation was requested into the reasons of this failure. Bruno Latour. While writing about Aramis's demise Latour describes ANT (Actor-Network Theory). In this book he argues that Aramis failed not because any particular Actor killed it but because it was not sustained through negotiation and adaptation to a changing social situation.

      See http://www.bruno-latour.fr/node/106

      I guess I'll be able to write

  • Most successful new town in England? If so, that's pretty depressing. Over a few visits I was struck by the sheer number of empty office buildings and shuttered storefronts both in the city center and on the outskirts.

  • Kick that thing over on its side.

No one gets sick on Wednesdays.

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