“Smart cities” must have smarter transport, where public and private transport need to coexist, if we are to collectively solve some of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. Driverless vehicles promise to create a truly interconnected and efficient end-to-end transport system, but software companies and transport experts have a huge part to play in figuring out how.

Research on autonomous vehicles has been happening for almost a century. However, it’s not until recently that this technology has seemingly sparked the next revolution in transport, thanks in part, to the latest advances in machine learning. Google spin-off Waymo claim that their autonomous cars have already driven more than 3 million miles. In the UK Oxbotica, an Oxford University spin-off, is running a pilot on autonomous buses.

Though most people consider the technical issues like bad weather conditions and roadworks as the main reasons for delay we should also consider some of the much larger questions such as the political, sociological and ethical issues that surround the autonomous vehicle.

Last weekend Transport Catapult and IMPART organised the IMCreate hackathon to help address some of these new challenges. 9 teams had 27 hours to create and present a project to impress the judging panel to win £2000 in the final showcase and one of our Passenger sponsored Amazon Echo Dots.

Taking part in a hack event is both physically and mentally draining given the sheer intensity. Overall we were really impressed with how all of the teams handled the pressure which produced some truly innovative output.

Some of the projects focused on creating a virtual environment to train autonomous vehicles in edge case scenarios including simulating extreme weather conditions. Other projects looked into the processing of the huge amount of streaming data provided by vehicle sensors in real time in order to detect obstacles or finding parking spaces.

Inspired by flying taxis, another team presented the idea of having rapid flying emergency response units instead of ambulances that can get stacked in traffic and therefore can help to optimise the NHS resources.

From self-driving cars to drone deliveries, there are a range of applications where removing human factor will drastically reduce operation costs and increase efficiency. It might take decades until we see autonomous vehicles as our primary mode of transport but every day there are more and more people thinking about how to take this technology from science fiction to science fact. There is no doubt that we live in very exciting times.