THE first trials of the UK's newest self-driving cars have begun on the streets of Oxford.

Six autonomous vehicles took to the streets of the city at the end of last week.

While all six of the Ford Mondeos carry the name 'Endeavour' on their sides, they are not named for Oxford's Inspector Morse, but instead for a Government-backed research consortium called Project Endeavour.

The scheme will run until Autumn next year, and similar vehicles will soon take to the streets of London, as well as one other as of yet unannounced UK city.

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The trials have been hailed as a 'landmark' moment by one of bosses at Oxbotica, the Oxford-based company pioneering self driving technology in the UK.

The aim of the new trials is to test out what is called 'Level 4' vehicle autonomy.

A system for how much autonomy a self-driving vehicle has was laid out by the US-based Society of Automotive Engineers in 2014 and runs between levels zero and five.

Level 0 is a car with no automation, while level 5 is fully automated car.

Level 4 is a 'high autonomy' vehicle which can drive itself, with its human driver able to concentrate on other things instead of the road if they choose to.

Oxford Mail:

The cameras atop a Project Endeavour vehicle

But Endeavour will also test a 'scalable' model for widespread use of self-driving cars, which will help councils prepare for their use in the future.

To test the six cars' ability, they will drive the nine-mile round trip from Oxford Parkway station to Oxford’s main train station throughout the year.

The route runs along the Banbury and Woodstock Roads to St Giles, and then into the main railway station and back again. 

The vehicles will all have a safety driver present who can take over control of the vehicle whenever it might be required.

Trials will be run at all times of day and night, allowing Oxbotica’s autonomous vehicles to experience a range of traffic scenarios from morning commutes to school runs, in different weather conditions.

Graeme Smith, senior vice president at Oxbotica said: “The first live on-road public trials mark a key landmark for Project Endeavour as we work with local authorities and members of the public in London, Oxford and other major UK cities to shape the future of mobility."

Oxfordshire County Council's Innovation Hub has joined the latest trials as part of the team in the Project Endeavour Consortium.

Also joining the project are the Transport Research Laboratory and the British Standards Institution.

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Together, the council and the other two organisations will create a 'new safety assurance assessment scheme' to make sure the self-driving cars are safe.

Dr Smith, who is also and Project Endeavour consortium director said: "Alongside our valued partners, we’re making autonomous vehicle services an everyday reality, right here in the UK.”

Most autonomous vehicles are only able to operate with GPS technology using what is called a 'geofence'.

This means that once they leave a certain area, the human driver has to take the wheel again without help from the robot.

Oxbotica's website claims its software can provide 'Universal Autonomy' without the need for GPS or special road markings.

Project Endeavour is part-funded by the Government's Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, established in 2015, in a bid to make the UK a world leader in self-driving technology.