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Driverless cars to hit UK roads from next year

By

August 7, 2014

An autonomous car being tested in the UK

An autonomous car being tested in the UK

Driverless cars are an exciting glimpse of the future, with great potential to improve road safety. It seems the UK has caught on to this, announcing a £10 million (US$17 million) scheme to test driverless cars on public roads from January 2015.

The UK Government is calling on all major cities to join together with businesses and research organizations to put forward a proposal for the country to become a test location for autonomous cars. Trials are expected to last between 18 and 36 months, and the £10 million funding pot will serve as a competition prize for up to three UK cities, with London being confirmed as a hopeful bid.

Currently, self-driving cars are only allowed on private roads in the UK, but the new scheme will allow for the testing of fully autonomous vehicles on public roads, as well as cars with self-driving features.

"Driverless cars have huge potential to transform the UK’s transport network – they could improve safety, reduce congestion and lower emissions, particularly CO2," said the UK’s Transport Minister, Claire Perry.

Driverless cars have been coming for some time, with manufacturers including Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Toyota, Ford and Volvo all working on the technology. Jaguar also recently previewed its self-learning smart car which can mimic a driver's behavior.

Nissan recently carried out the first public road test of a driverless car on a Japanese highway, and has said it plans to be manufacturing driverless cars by 2020. Meanwhile, several states in the US have already passed legislation which will allow driverless cars, including California, Nevada and Florida.

Much of the limelight has centered on Google thus far; its driverless car has completed 804,000 km (500,000 miles) of road tests. The technology giant has set 2017 as the date its cars will hit the roads.

"Britain is brilliantly placed to lead the world in driverless technology. It combines our strengths in cars, satellites, big data and urban design; with huge potential benefits for future jobs and for the consumer," said Science Minister Greg Clark.

The deadline for applications for the driverless cars competition is October 1.

Source: UK Government

9 Comments

Can't wait to see the panic that hits around licensing.

If I'm "behind the wheel" (figuratively speaking) of one of these in the UK, and I'm not actually DRIVING, I'm effectively a passenger - so I won't need a driving license, will I?

Keith Reeder
7th August, 2014 @ 10:30 am PDT

Hi Keith,

I suspect the legislation to deal with autonomous vehicles (it won't just be cars, after all… buses, trucks - maybe not motorbikes (but see Lit Motors..!)) will be a far more complicated hurdle to overcome than the engineering.

The currant definition of 'driving' is being in a position to have control over the vehicle's brakes and steering… So if you are in the 'driving' seat and, assuming the 'autocar' or 'robocar' or whatever we end up calling them, has a steering wheel and brakes (and that they are 'engaged' - subsequently provable by the 'black box') you will be 'driving' and therefore require a licence and, of course, be responsible for any… problems... caused by the vehicle.

My real interest in autocars lies more in the idea that, relatively soon, many people won't own a car any more but just call up an autocar on their smartphone when they need one and it'll come along to wherever they are almost instantly and off you go. The upside is the huge improvement in road safety - I would imagine road fatalities would fall by something like 80 to 90% if the majority of cars on the road were autonomously controlled. On top of that there is the convenience (arguably), relative low cost and greater efficiency of the system along with much less congestion due to the relative scarcity of privately owned, road-side parked cars. The downside is that cab driving will virtually disappear as a job… and we'll all be just that little bit less 'free', I suppose. Interesting times.

Martin Winlow
8th August, 2014 @ 02:35 am PDT

What exactly do we do with these vehicles when (not 'if') a sensor fails? Does it just stop because it will clearly not be as safe as it would be with a full set of working sensors? Or do we let it plough on (literally) because we cannot simply jam up arterial roads, especially during 'rush hour', and so just hope it does not cause an accident?

We can make 'normal' vehicles a lot safer simply be applying much of the autonomous technology - speed control, traffic signal adherence, road junction management, lane adherence, etc, with HUD display instrument displays etc.. We would get the best of both worlds together with having a backup system - the human driver - who can use common sense to cope with the unknown unknowns as and when they raise their ugly head and who is deemed responsible if the vehicle is involved in an accident.

The only way I can see these becoming commonplace is for them to have their own dedicated lane/road that not only manage them but also manage pedestrians, too, especially children.

There is a truth in vehicle design: if it can happen, it will happen. The trouble is that there are too many things that can happen and will not be designed for because we won't even think of them until the WTF moment of realisation. It will be at that same moment that the passengers will be wanting to take control, probably desperately so.

Mel Tisdale
8th August, 2014 @ 04:44 am PDT

There are some questions that I think the proponents of these vehicles need to answer before they are allowed to endanger us all. An example question would be:

It is early summer and an autonomous vehicles is travelling down a country road that has high hedges in full leaf. You come up behind a slow moving, red tractor, which a human driver would expect to overtake as and when safe to do so. The road ahead is clear and for the record, so too is the road behind. So it can be expected that an overtaking manoeuver will be initiated by the autonomous vehicle.

There is a well hidden field gateway some way off on the oncoming side. Just visible in this gateway is the green front wheel of a green tractor that a human would be expected to assume to be about to exit the field onto the road. If the green tractor driver chooses to go in the same direction as both the autonomous vehicle and the red tractor, it will extend the room needed to safely complete the overtaking manoeuver, which is more than is available. If he chooses to come towards you, it will possibly cause an accident unless the autonomous car somehow manages to spot the green tractor's green front wheel against of the green of the hedge and aborts the attempt to overtake.

How does Google, or whomever, plan to ensure that these autonomous vehicles are capable of making the safe decision to abort the overtaking manoeuver? Yes, the tractor driver would be largely to blame, but that is small solace for the family of the deceased passenger(s) in the autonomous vehicle.

Anyone who has taken the U.K.'s Institute of Advanced Motorists driving test will know that you would be expected to not only spot the danger presented by the hardly visible wheel, but also respond accordingly by delaying the overtaking manoeuver. From what I know of human psychology and related machine capabilities, I cannot see any autonomous vehicle spotting the wheel, let alone the danger it represents and until they become so capable, they should not be allowed on our roads.

Surely the minimum standard should be the I.A.M. level of competence.

Mel Tisdale
8th August, 2014 @ 08:05 am PDT

Benefits

Rival cabs for fares

Boost tourism

make roads safer

PR for UK alone.

Problems:

hacking system

hacking car system individually

Awesome

Stephen N Russell
8th August, 2014 @ 09:30 am PDT

Surely the roads are crowded enough in the UK, without loads of cars driving around, on their own, without drivers?

Nik
8th August, 2014 @ 01:16 pm PDT

If these cars will be driver-less, will this alleviate the parking problems?

eg. When driving to work, the owner just directs the car to return home, and then return at the end of work to collect him?

Nik
8th August, 2014 @ 01:23 pm PDT

So what does everyone do? Sit around and play with themselves? I know now this planet is one big insane asylum.

Sorb
8th August, 2014 @ 01:35 pm PDT

I spent twenty years writing code for mainframe computers, for all sorts of applications. People writing about the hypothetical "what if?"s have no knowledge of complex systems and how they actually perform. First, there will be far fewer vehicles on the road, not more. Currently, (not "currant") private automobiles spend over 90% of their operational lives parked and not moving. It is a vast waste of resources. Once a driverless vehicle delivers the commuter to work, it will (eventually, not right away) turn into a driverless cab, and probably earn the owner money, instead of going home, or parking in a garage (and paying for parking). With all these cars interconnected, you might "ridershare" your way all the way to work, switching cars as you got closer, at nexus points. In effect, far fewer cars on the road, faster commutes, and fewer car owners. And breakdowns? Collisions? Like I said, you don't know code, if you worry about those. Right now, people ignore warning lights and low gas gauges, and the stalled cars from those eventually breakdowns cause huge delays. Those won't happen.

Scott in California
9th August, 2014 @ 01:23 pm PDT
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