A new driverless car lab is opening in Oxford today in a move which propels the UK closer to putting the vehicles on the roads.
The lab, which has been backed by telecom giant O2 and the European Space Agency, will allow companies to trial connected and autonomous vehicles using both 5G and satellite communications.
They will be able to trial their ideas using Renault electric cars which have been fitted with laser sensors known as Lidar, to allow the vehicles to detect how they are moving, and transformed into "connected" vehicles to send data back to the teams.
One of the projects already in trial-stage at the site tracks how vehicles are emitting carbon dioxide emissions using the Lidar sensors and satellite imagery, calculating how ecofriendly different routes are by mapping the effect on nearby trees and measuring the carbon footprint of the trips.
O2 said this would be fed into work by its retail partners and how they deliver items such as groceries to customers. The Darwin SatCom Lab will be based in the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
O2 chief operating officer Derek McManus said it marked "the next step in getting autonomous vehicles on the road and making the UK’s transport network greener".
Amanda Solloway, the UK minister for science, research and innovation, said: "The UK’s space sector is applying pioneering technologies such as satellite and 5G to essential products and services that will help to transform our everyday lives.
“I am incredibly excited that O2’s first of its kind driverless car lab will enable our most innovative businesses to test these technologies and bring us another step closer to putting self-driving vehicles safely on our roads.”
The opening of the new lab comes as a growing number of large US tech firms set up driverless car units in the UK. Last month, Amazon said it was setting up a new team in Cambridge to develop its self-driving delivery robots.
Google, meanwhile, last year established its European hub for its driverless car business Waymo in Oxford, saying there was "an exciting opportunity in Europe, not only in continuing to build our partnerships with major automakers but also in benefitting from the world-class technology and engineering capabilities in Oxford and beyond".