Devon tourist attraction aims to build driverless vehicle test facility – in miniature

April 1st 2017.

Babbacombe Model Village (, in Torbay, Devon, has joined forces with a driverless technology training startup in an innovative bid for grant funding from the UK Government.

The funding will be used to upgrade the road infrastructure at Babbacombe Model Village, to provide facilities to test driverless vehicle technology, as well as provide charging facilities for companies also developing small low-carbon vehicles.

“The biggest benefit”, says General Manager Simon Wills, “is that we can offer everything that the big test facilities can offer, but at 1/12th of the cost… that’s great for all the companies working on the technology, but it’s also great news for the taxpayer, and could really help us attract business from overseas.”

International appeal

The Model Village, which has stood for more than half a century, boasts more than 400 buildings, and includes village and city settings, shopping areas and a variety of types of public transport in a small space.

Alex Lawrence-Berkeley, of driverless technology training company Self Driving Track Days (, said he was excited about the project’s potential. “What most people across the industry recognise is that developing, and more importantly testing, driverless vehicle technology is really complicated.”

“We regularly work with companies developing technologies used in driverless cars around the world through our vehicle perception training and events, and those companies are crying out for a lower-cost approach. The great thing about a lot of this technology is a considerable percentage of it can be developed and tested on scale-model vehicles.”

“UK government is investing heavily in this area, so we are really pleased to be able to help the taxpayer achieve the best possible value for money by taking a fresh approach.”

“We are excited to be working with Simon and his team on this project and welcome feedback from companies in the supply chain on how we can work together,” concluded Alex.

“We were really pleased when we finally identified a partner that understood what we were trying to achieve”, said Babbacombe’s General Manager Simon Wills, “and the team at Self Driving Track Days has great connections across the driverless technology industry globally, a really great community of supporters in the UK, as well as the experience in going through the fund application process.”

Technology applications in the built environment

Babbacombe Model Village already boasts a variety of environments which would cost tens of millions of pounds to replicate at full scale, and has a range of support facilities which make it ideal for new startups, notably small companies looking to scale up.

“We have office space and workshops already in place to complement the planned road testing environment and unique infrastructure needed for this sort of project, alongside full accessibility support, catering, on-site design and manufacturing facilities, and a 4D theatre to provide support for the virtual testing that will also be part of the project,” said Wills.

Tourist attraction continues

Babbacombe would continue to operate as a tourist attraction if the funding bid was successful, and provide its facilities outside the main tourist season – when vehicle testing is at its peak.

Until then, it’s business as usual. “We are gearing up for a busy Easter holiday period right now, so will be looking forward to the first big crowds of the year, “ said Wills, “we’d be delighted to hear what our visitors have to say about this future project.”

Further information about the project can be found at or


Notes for editors:

Babbacombe Model Village ( is a Tourist Attraction located in Torbay, Devon. Established in 1963, the village portrays English life and culture over the last 6 decades, having been open for 54 years.  It boasts 413 buildings set in 4 acres of gardens and has an estimated population of 13,160.

Self Driving Track Days is run by Sense Media Group (, a Surrey-based startup specialising in vehicle perception events and training.  Its event series include Self Driving Track Days (, the world’s first events providing test track facilities for driverless vehicle technologies, specialist training, meetups on driverless and autonomous vehicles around the UK and AutoSens (, the world’s leading vehicle perception conference.

The CAV Testing Infrastructure fund being applied for was announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Budget in 2016 and will be delivered by Innovate UK (, with policy and scope guidance from UK Gov’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (, and was publicly launched with an industry briefing event on March 28th 2017.

Further enquiries

Media enquiries can be directed to:

Alex Lawrence-Berkeley: Mob: 07757 647199

Simon Wills:

Filming at Babbacombe can be arranged with Simon for Friday 31st March. Interviews can take place in Devon (with Simon) or London (with Alex) or remotely via either with Skype, etc.