Addison Lee is planning to launch self-driving taxis on London’s streets by 2021. The private hire giant has teamed up with self-driving specialists Oxbotica to develop autonomous vehicles over the next three years.
The move comes as Addison Lee’s owner, Carlyle Group, is looking to raise $300 million in new funding – and the move into the AV sector is likely to be attractive to investors.
Oxbotica is a commercial venture set up by Oxford University. It has raised around $18 million to date, with backers including Oxford, Innovate UK, the Ministry of Defence, the IP Group, insurers Axa XL and others.
Under the deal, Addison Lee and Oxbotica are planning to develop self-driving technology that can be fitted to Addison Lee’s cars. Oxbotica was the first company to start a self-driving car test on a UK road, when it tested its equipment on a modified Renault driving at 5mph in Milton Keynes in 2016.
Addison Lee CEO Andy Boland said: “The way Oxbotica has built its technology has been impressive. They have the most tangible capability that we could go with, and the business model isn’t just for ride share or car share, it’s across a range of other industry applications, and we like that, too.” This could include shuttle services and courier delieveries as well as private hire.
“This represents a huge leap towards bringing autonomous vehicles into mainstream use on the streets of London, and eventually in cities across the UK and beyond,” said Graeme Smith, CEO of Oxbotica, in a statement.
“Our partnership with Addison Lee Group represents another milestone for the commercial deployment of our integrated autonomous vehicle and fleet management software systems in complex urban transport conditions. Together, we are taking a major step in delivering the future of mobility.”
First, a comprehensive 3D mapping sweep of London will be made before any autonomous vehicle is prepared. This will cover more than 250,000 miles of public roads in and around London. The maps will record the position of kerbs, road signs, landmarks and traffic lights.
Addison Lee has not named a vehicle partner, and Boland said this was intentional. The initial mapping exercise will be on the company’s existing fleet of Ford vehicles working on autonomous research around London today. “But in terms of future service provision in 2021, that decision is yet to be made. Oxbotica is agnostic to manufacturers, and that was also interesting to us at the moment,” Boland said.
If the London plan is successful, Addison Lee could add self-driving vehicles to its services in New York and other international markets.
Boland believes urban transport will change “beyond recognition” over the next 10 years and the company needs to be at the forefront. “Autonomous technology holds the key to many of the challenges we face in transport. By providing ride-sharing services, we can help address congestion, free space used for parking and improve urban air quality through zero-emission vehicles,” he said.