Researchers at Imperial College, London, have simulated the potential impact in cities of fleets of self-driving autonomous vehicles (AV) on congestion, emissions, public transport and ride-sharing services.

The team analysed tens of thousands of possible deployment scenarios using a range of service parameters and fleet management algorithms. The aim is to ensure that such services can run efficiently and profitably without adverse knock-on effects to other modes of transport, such as active and sustainable travel.

The project team included researchers from Imperial’s Transport Systems and Logistics Laboratory (TSL) and AV software company Oxbotica in a project called SHIFT, funded by a £1.58 million grant awarded by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, delivered through Innovate UK.

Transport for London (TfL) was also a consortium member, providing data to aid understanding of how the deployment of AVs might vary across different areas of London. The project also considered the potential impact of autonomous vehicle technologies on the central goal of the Mayor of London’s Transport Strategy; that by 2041, 80 per cent of all trips in London are to be made on foot, by cycle or using public transport and that London’s air quality is improved.

Dr Panagiotis Angeloudis, Reader in Transport Systems & Logistics at Imperial College London said, “As AVs are likely to operate throughout the day, without the need for driver breaks, there is the potential for them to waste energy and increase congestion by completing ‘empty miles’. Algorithms that the team has developed can help optimise the fleet, making sure only enough vehicles are operating in the right areas to meet demand without wasting energy.

The team also simulated the impact of electrifying AVs, showing how the emissions from road transportation could be reduced.

The project partners have published their findings as the SHIFT Autonomous Deployment Report, which includes details of the Imperial team’s simulations, and provides first-of-its-kind driver safety guidelines, an AV build manual and a data infrastructure framework to help operators take AV demonstrations to larger-scale service deployments in the UK.