Driverless cars to appear in streets of Bristol, Greenwich, Coventry and Milton Keynes to improve safety and reduce congestion
Driverless cars will start appearing on Britain’s roads in four towns and cities next year to help improve safety and reduce congestion, George Osborne has announced.
Bristol and Greenwich, in south-east London, will be used as venues to examine the challenges of bringing fully automated vehicles on to the UK’s roads. Coventry and Milton Keynes will also host tests.
The trials will investigate whether driverless cars can reduce congestion and make roads safer, while also assessing the public’s reaction to the new technology. The tests, starting in January and lasting for 18 to 36 months, will also analyse the legal and insurance implications of driverless cars.
Robotic cars – which can sense the environment and navigate without human input – exist mainly as prototypes and demonstration systems.
However, they are evolving fast and the UK government is determined that Britain be at the forefront of the emerging technology.
The driverless technology industry is estimated to be worth £900 billion globally by 2025, currently growing at 16 per cent a year.
Detail about the decision was announced by the quango Innovate UK shortly after Mr Osborne’s Autumn Statement. An extra £9m of funding will be made available to help run the trials, in addition to £10m of government funding already provided.
“The UK is a world-leader in the development of driverless technology, and today’s announcement will see driverless cars take to city streets from 1 January. This not only puts us at the forefront of this transformational technology but it also opens up new opportunities for our economy and society,” said Dr Cable.
“Through the government’s industrial strategy we are backing the automotive sector as it goes from strength to strength. We are providing the right environment to give businesses the confidence to invest and create high skilled jobs.”
Ford, Jaguar Land Rover and the engineering consultancy Arup will test both self-drive cars on the road as well as self-driving pods designed for pedestrianised areas.
The group will aim to develop the technologies that will need to be built into roads and the surrounding infrastructure to aid vehicle navigation.
“Our plan with the practical demonstration phases is to start testing with single vehicles on closed roads, and to build up to a point where all road users, as well as legislators, the police and insurance companies, are confident about how driverless pods and fully and partially autonomous cars can operate safely on UK roads,” said Tim Armitage from Arup.
The project in Bristol will try and identify whether driverless cars can cut congestion and make roads safer. The Greenwich scheme is focussing on automated passenger shuttle vehicles and driverless valet parking.
UK Autodrive, which will be located Milton Keynes and Coventry, will demonstrate road-going cars and lightweight self-driving pods designed for pedestrianised spaces.
“The UK has a unique combination of advantages for the development of this technology, making it a highly attractive place to undertake research, development and demonstration in this field – this sets us apart from the rest of the world,” said a spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.
Other countries – including Germany and America – struggle to carry out long distance public road trials because legal fragmentation means that different rules and regulations apply in different parts of the country.
Engineers in America have been pushing forward with the new technology, however.
The U.S. state of Nevada passed a law in June 2011 to allow test drives of autonomous vehicles there.
In 2012, the Google founder Sergey Brin stated that Google Self-Driving car would be available for the general public in 2017, although this date has been pushed back since. Google’s driverless car has done at least 300,000 miles on the open road.
In Europe, the Swedish city of Gothenburg has given Volvo permission to test 100 driverless cars – although that trial is not scheduled to occur until 2017.
Apart from Nevada, California and Florida have also approved tests of the vehicles. Last year, Nissan carried out Japan’s first public road test of an autonomous vehicle on a highway.