From the Black Country to Pyeongchang: Driverless pods going for gold at Winter Olympics
As the games open today, visitors to Pyeongchang are travelling in style in driverless ‘autonomous electric pods’, which have been supplied by Westfield Sports Cars, based at Kingswinford, after signing a £30 million contract.
The deal to supply South Korea with the self-driving pods was signed by International Trade Minister and Kidderminster MP Mark Garnier in August last year.
In one of the very first commercial orders signed for the export of the vehicles anywhere in the world, Westfield Sports Cars sealed a deal to supply the pods to North Gyeongsang, a South Korean regional government.
But there was no clue at the time that the pods would be used for the upcoming Winter Olympics.
At the time Mark Garnier said: “The Midlands engine is in full gear as we lead the way in manufacturing expertise and show the world that Britain is open for business.
“Demand for our goods and services is clearly out there and we will continue to support businesses in making the most of global markets as we leave the EU.”
The UK has a strong automotive trading link with South Korea and the number of cars exported to the country has increased five-fold, making it the UK’s eighth largest export market outside of Europe – up from 16th in 2009.
South Korea ordered five of the autonomous electric pods for initial testing with further option on 195.
It was hoped the project would provide millions of pounds worth of business for UK companies including Westfield Sports Cars.
After the deal was signed, Westfield chief executive officer Julian Turner said: “We are really excited to be working with the UK SMART City Team to help drive this technology of the future, from the West Midlands to South Korea.
“The team – consisting of Westfield, Ordnance Survey, Transport Research Laboratory, Cenex, Potenza Technology, Oxford University Energy Group, Fusion Processing – all have worked hard to develop the relationship together over the past 12 months and it is with great pleasure to be signing a deal between the parties.
“There will be many great things to develop over the coming months, sharing legal, insurance, safety, technology and a passion to make internet of things work a better way.”
Westfield is better known for its ‘kit’ sports cars that are either hand-built at its factory or assembled by motoring enthusiasts themselves. But it is now a leading force in the development of autonomous or self-driving vehicles.
Its pods are due to be piloted around the streets of Wolverhampton this year as part of pilot project by Transport for West Midlands to assess the business case for the technology.
The pods, which will also be tested in Birmingham and Coventry, are similar to those already in use at Heathrow’s Terminal 5.
The pods can carry up to six passengers at a time and will be used for short-hop journeys of up to a mile.
Westfield is trialling the pods in Greenwich – where they have been for the past 12 to 18 months – and also in Bristol. A commercial operation could then start at the Olympic Park in London.
Westfield is among a string of Team GB exporters who have won work at the games. London based FoamHand is providing event management expertise to reduce crowd congestion and manage spectators.
Another innovative company to win a contract for the games is Liverpool based Blacc, after successfully recruiting and training more than 3,300 stewards and volunteers at the London 2012 Olympics.
Minister of State for Trade and Export Promotion, Baroness Rona Fairhead said: “As Team GB goes for gold at the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in South Korea, our exporters are already on the medal table after landing contracts to get the games up and running.
“Their success shows the high demand for UK goods and services around the world. When high-quality is what’s required, people buy British.”
A total of eight companies from across the UK have won contracts to supply the Winter Olympics.
They are part of growing trade between the UK and South Korea, which has nearly doubled since 2010. UK exports to South Korea are now worth £6.1bn.