Street mapping: paving the way for autonomous council vehicles

It’s no secret that local authorities across the country have had their spending power significantly reduced over the last few years. So now it is as important as ever that councils look at innovative new approaches to delivering services to our tax paying residents.

Oxford City Council is doing just that and we have teamed up with the University of Oxford’s Robotics Institute to trial the development of council vehicles that can produce live data on the state of the city. This trial is taking place with the long-term view of creating autonomous vehicles that will transform council services.

Council vehicles such as street cleaners are being fitted with sensors to produce 3D maps of the city.

At the same time we’re exploring what other data we can access that can help us identify road and pavement surface damage, air quality, people numbers and movement, litter and fly-tipping, parked vehicles, damaged street signage, and heat loss from buildings.

The data is gathered while the council’s street cleaning vehicles perform their everyday duties and our university partners are developing algorithms that will report back live data, enabling proactive and reactive work to be commissioned.

For example, the vehicle may pass a street light that is broken. This is recorded in the data and will create a ticket for the council to carry out the repair without waiting for it to be reported.

The information will enable more effective planning from the city council and its partners while creating records of unreported issues to act upon.

If the project is successful, the new innovation could see the council add the mapping tool to its fleet of vehicles as well as looking for commercial partners to scale up and replicate elsewhere.

Oxford is already home to world-leading mobile autonomy and robotics research at the Oxford Robotics Institute.

While it’s still early days, the ORI team working with the council are hoping that the breadth of data that can be collected will be greater, allowing innovators to explore and use the data to create new ideas and applications.

The city is a renowned knowledge hub and it is befitting that a trial such as this could open up the potential of the council delivering further value to the taxpayer.

This comes at a time when autonomous vehicles are being trialled across the country, including in Oxford. The DRIVEN consortium led by Oxford based Oxbotica has just been awarded £8.6m of Innovate UK funding to further develop and trial autonomous cars.

It’s one of many initiatives that Oxford City Council is collaborating on as part of the working group Smart Oxford, of which the council is a founding partner.

Smart Oxford is a strategic programme that includes a wide range of local partners working together to develop and promote Oxford as a smart city, and support innovative ways of trialling technologies and solutions.

The city mapping project is still young but the potential is huge. We hope that this will pave the way for driverless vehicles to transform the public landscape across the country in years to come.

Sebastian Johnson

Sebastian Johnson

Principal economic development officer at Oxford City Council and vice-chair of the Smart Oxford board

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