Solihull and the NEC lead the drive in driverless technology

23 September 2021 Becky Humphries

Solihull and the NEC have become one of the first places in the UK to see driverless vehicles take to its roads as part of new ground-breaking passenger trials. 

An exciting council-led trial is getting underway to test out how Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) might be integrated into the borough’s transport network in the future.

Securing funds from the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP), Solihull Council has become the first Local Authority in the country to purchase its very own fully electric autonomous shuttle from Coventry-based Aurrigo, which it will initially be trialling at the NEC over the next four weeks.

The shuttle can carry up to eight passengers and uses a suite of sensors to understand its surroundings, allowing it to move around safely, interacting with live traffic with little or no operator input. For the purposes of the trial, in line with current UK legislation, a safety operator will be on-board at all times, who will have the ability to take control of the shuttle if required.

The trial at the NEC will see the shuttle operate autonomously along a 1-mile pre-mapped section of Pendigo Way between Hall 5 and Resorts World.

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L-R: Cllr Hawkins SMBC, Gary Masters NEC Campus GM, Chris Lane, Head of Transport Innovation at TfWM and Ewa Truchanowicz, Board

Those behind the project are encouraging anyone who wants to take part and experience one of the first fully self-driving shuttles in the UK to book a free ride. You can check availability and book your ride here.

The success of this initial trial will provide knowledge and experience of self-driving vehicles in a real-world environment, meaning that they could be rolled-out elsewhere in Solihull in the future.

This project forms part of the wider West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) funded UK Central investment programme, which is delivering a wide range of projects, from walking and cycling improvement schemes through to town centre redevelopment and builds on the establishment of the Midlands Future Mobility testbed.

The project is inviting organisations from around the Solihull area to make contact if they are interested in learning more about the technology and potentially host a trial themselves at some point over the coming 18 months. Further information is available at

 Paul Thandi, CEO of the NEC Group, said:

“We are proud to launch this innovative project in partnership with Solihull Council. CAV technology and the transition to electric transportation marks progress in our dynamic commitment to embed green initiatives into all daily operations across the NEC site.

“Sustainability is at the heart of our business. We are already leading the way with energy efficient projects that utilise LED technology and our zero waste to landfill commitment, but it is by pioneering technology projects like CAV that we can continue to invest in the sustainability of the live events industry and the wellbeing of future generations.”

Councillor Ken Hawkins, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Environment & Infrastructure, said:

“CAV technology has the potential revolutionise the way we get around our towns, cities and rural areas as well as transport goods. This trial is all about looking at how we can practically and safely start to incorporate autonomous vehicles into our future transport infrastructure. Already one of the best connected destinations in the UK and Europe, the NEC is the perfect place to trial our shuttle and look at how it can be used to improve the first and last mile passenger experience.

Alongside the obvious environmental benefits, this is an excellent example of how smart technology could be used to cut congestion and improve public transport.

“The results of our trials will provide learning on future mobility services and highway infrastructure design across all future development sites within Solihull and the wider region, including integration with the HS2 Interchange at Arden Cross.”

Cllr Andy Mackiewicz, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Climate Change, Planning & Housing, said:

“We know that 39% of carbon emissions in the borough are currently attributed to transport, with road traffic accounting for nearly all of this. Urgent action will be required in this area if we are going to achieve our net zero carbon aspirations for the borough by 2041. Automated Vehicle technology (CAV) presents us with a fantastic opportunity to address the dual issues of vehicle emissions and single occupancy journeys.

“As regional and world leaders prepare for the upcoming COP26 summit in Glasgow, Solihull is leading the way in demonstrating how emerging technology can be utilised to reduce net carbon emissions and improve air quality for our residents.”

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said:

“The region is at the cutting edge of the development of CAV technology and this real world trial offers an excellent opportunity to understand the role autonomous vehicles can play in our transport system.

“This technology has the potential to change the way we travel and will no doubt become a key part of our future transport system. On top of that, this emerging high-value sector in research and manufacturing is already playing an increasingly important role in the Green Industrial Revolution happening right here in the West Midlands.”

Ewa Truchanowicz, Board Director, Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP), said:

“It’s fantastic to see the fully electric autonomous vehicle operating at the NEC. We allocated £250,000 from our Local Growth Fund into this Solihull Council-led trial as we recognise the huge potential for Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs). This is one element of our wider GBSLEP vision to deliver clean growth across our region. By reducing CO2 emissions and reducing congestion through shared occupancy, CAVs will have an impact on the way we all travel in the future. I would encourage people to take part and experience one of the first fully self-driving shuttles in the UK!”

 Miles Garner, Sales & Marketing Director at autonomous shuttle manufacturer Aurrigo, said:

“Interest in how our autonomous technology can provide a first/last mile transport solution is growing from all over the world and we’re delighted that a local authority – just twenty minutes from our Advanced Engineering Centre – are the first in the world to purchase an Auto-Shuttle.

“NEC staff, visitors to Resort World and event goers can all take a trip on our shuttle as part of the trial, becoming the first in the country to have an autonomous journey on a public road at a major exhibition centre.

“These trials will provide us with real-life feedback on user experience and, importantly, how we can safely embed these solutions into the transport infrastructure of the future.”

Nigel Hudson, Strategy & Planning Director at Solihull Council’s Urban Growth Company, which is charged with leading infrastructure investment and development at UK Central Hub, said:

“The Hub is one of the most exciting, high-value and sustainable development opportunities in Europe so it’s fitting that it’s the home of this trial.  This type of cutting-edge technology, along with unrivalled connectivity and the combination of brilliant organisations already based around this area, is what really puts The Hub on the international map as a place to invest in.  Also, it’s likely that the results of this trial will support work we’re doing to put in place a smart car parking system across The Hub, as well as how we dynamically manage traffic movement across the local highway network.”