Autonomous cars will be tested on UK roads before the end of the year, according to a government policy paper published on Tuesday. According to the BBC, trials will take place on less busy rural and suburban roads, using what the paper describes as a semi-autonomous mode which will allow a driver to take control of the vehicle if necessary. A driver will ride along during all tests for safety reasons.

The tests will be carried out by the Mobile Robotics Group at Oxford University which has adapted a Nissan Leaf for autonomous driving. The prototype uses stereo cameras and laser scanners as sensors, and is able to learn frequently driven routes. (See Gizmag's February report for more details of the prototype.)

Google is perhaps the company most closely associated with autonomous driving, though several auto makers have implemented and continue to develop automated driver aids.

"The notion of reading the newspapers and drinking a cup of coffee is a bit far-fetched," Paul Watters of the UK's AA automobile association told the BBC. "It's early days and driverless cars won't be mainstream for a long time. But we have a variety of in-car technologies already, including guided parking and adaptive cruise control, so fully driverless cars will be the culmination of a gradual evolution, not an overnight revolution."

Though it seems likely that Watters is correct in that cars will become more autonomous in stages over the years, Gizmag's recent first-hand experience with Volvo's autonomous technology suggests that progress will be swift.

Source: BBC