Pictured above: RACE at Culham Science Centre
OxLEP has today (4 March) announced the completion of phase one of the Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) project at UKAEA’s robotics facility, RACE (Remote Applications in Challenging Environments) at Culham Science Centre – one of several schemes to have benefitted from government funding secured by OxLEP, through the government’s Local Growth Fund.
Phase one of the project has seen the construction of the ‘Pit Lane’ facility, with the creation of four new state-of-the-art workspaces, allowing those at the forefront of autonomous vehicle innovation to undertake testing and development on-site.
Two of these units now have commercial tenants in place, with the other two workspaces available to take on further tenants.
This phase of the project has also seen the development of an associated Control Centre, which provides a dedicated base from which the facilities can be monitored and managed, alongside a designated area for hot desking.
The site now hosts a dedicated Wi-Fi system, alongside a private mobile phone network which – prior to this project – was non-existent, with zero network capability in-place.
Funding has also seen further high-tech additions to the facility, including a dedicated CCTV network, allowing vehicle testing to be monitored effectively, and an ‘RTK base station’, enabling testing to benefit from a vast improvement in the accuracy of GPS location data.
‘Mule vehicles’ have been put in-place utilising the funding from this phase of the project, which are capable of running autonomously using a low speed operating system and interfacing with the connected infrastructure, allowing for testing to take place as accurately as possible on-site.
The completion of phase one of the project has also seen the development of the physical infrastructure necessary to install smart traffic lights at the T-junction where ‘Pit Lane’ joins the main Culham site road network.
With 10km of varied and mixed private roads, as well as more than 2,500 people on site, Culham Science Centre offers a unique environment for controlled testing of self-driving vehicles before they venture out onto public roads.
This development of CAV testing facilities allows the development of driverless cars, sensor technology and intelligent traffic systems in a safe environment with Oxfordshire being home to a dynamic and flourishing CAV cluster, which is recognised as having ‘world-class’ potential as one of several ‘transformative technologies’ identified within the county’s 2017 Science and Innovation Audit.
RACE is a key UK centre of excellence and has one of the UK’s only semi-controlled test beds.
To date – through the project – 44 jobs have been created and this number is set rise as new commercial tenants take space.
Following on from the success of this project, additional funding was secured for a project to further improve the ability of RACE to host CAV trials, with works on that phase of the project ongoing.
OxLEP is one of 38 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in England playing a key role in driving forward economic growth and – by 2021 – it’s expected that central Government will have invested over £12bn into the UK economy via the Local Growth Fund.
The Local Growth Fund investment aims to allow LEPs to use their local knowledge to promote growth in their individual regions. Analysis has shown that for every £1 of Local Growth Fund invested, £4.81 in benefits could be generated.
OxLEP secured £1.8m of funding for this phase of the project via the government’s Local Growth Fund, with RACE having secured a further £3.5m enabled funding.
Since its inception in 2011, OxLEP – with its partners – has secured around £1bn-worth of investment for Oxfordshire. In total, OxLEP currently oversees a £3.1bn growth programme for the county.
Nigel Tipple – OxLEP Chief Executive – said: “The completion of the initial phase of this project – which will further enhance the county’s global capabilities in connected and autonomous vehicles – is really worth reflecting upon and celebrating.
“As we look ahead as a county, it is essential we continue to leverage our key strengths and assets within Oxfordshire that have truly global potential, working alongside the objectives set out within the county’s Economic Recovery Plan, developed by OxLEP alongside a variety of private and public sector partners.
“As the Local Enterprise Partnership for Oxfordshire, we will continue to play a vitally important role for the county moving forward, with our secured investment enabling new opportunities that benefit the county’s businesses – and, in this instance, our world-leading transformative technologies – for many years to come.”
Gary Staunton, Lead Technologist, RACE, said: “The investment we have received from OxLEP has contributed to the development of the Culham site as an integral part of the UK’s connected and autonomous vehicle test capability.
“It has helped to deliver and transform our ability to support a wide and growing range of innovators as they develop self-driving technologies that will lie at the heart of a robust and cyber secure intelligent transport system.
“Over the past few years, we have had the pleasure of working with many great companies and look forward to working with many more.”