The UK’s first driverless cars, designed to help commuters, shoppers and the elderly travel short journeys, were officially trialled on UK roads for the first time on Wednesday 11th February. Up to now, the scope for testing driverless cars has been limited, but as the Government considers changes to the Highway Code to allow public use, industry has been given the green light for testing on public roads.
The Lutz Pathfinder prototype pod, designed and built by Coventry-based engineering firm RDM Group, was unveiled on the same day that the government allowed road testing for the first time, positioning the UK to be at the forefront of developing the technology. While autonomous Lutz pods drove around public areas in Milton Keynes and Coventry, ministers visited Greenwich, London, to see Gateway’s self-driving passenger shuttles in action. The BAE Wildcat, a modified military jeep developed by BAE Systems, was also trialled in Bristol.
The Lutz vehicle has 22 sensors in total, including panoramic cameras, laser imaging, and radar, which it uses to build a virtual image of the world around it. The intelligent imaging technology was purpose-built by Oxford University’s Mobile Robotics Group.
The government says that the UK’s regulatory environment sets it apart as a premium location for developing the technology, with tremendous potential for reducing accidents and making traffic flow more smoothly. By 2030, the technology is expected to reach a level of safety and sophistication to allow all drivers to effectively become passengers as cars take over, being able to work, talk to friends or entertain themselves on the internet as they are driven around.
The project will feed into the wider Autodrive project, and is led by the Government's Transport Systems Catapult, the UK's centre for intelligent mobility. Chancellor George Osborne committed £20m in funding to quest for driverless cars in the 2014 Budget.
After testing these cars in the ‘urban laboratory’ of Milton Keynes to ensure that that driverless cars can comply with the Highway Code and insurance mandates, there will be further public trials, and the 40 or so cars will be gradually introduced into other UK cities under the Autodrive initiative, the Transport Systems Catapult said.
To mark the launch of ‘Driverless cars in the UK: a regulatory review’, Vince Cable will join Claire Perry in Greenwich, home to one of the projects benefiting from government funding for driverless car trials. Along with Bristol, Milton Keynes and Coventry, the Greenwich project is building on the pioneering work begun last year by Oxford University in partnership with Nissan.
The review advises that it is legal to test an autonomous vehicle on the road, as long as there is a suitably qualified ‘test driver’ present, who is able to resume active control of the car at a moment's notice. To read the full report, click here.
“These are still early days but today is an important step. The trials present a fantastic opportunity for this country to take a lead internationally in the development of this technology,” said Claire Perry, Transport Minister.
“The UK is at the cutting edge of automotive technology - from the all-electric cars built in Sunderland, to the Formula 1 expertise in the Midlands,” commented Vince Cable, Business Secretary. “It’s important for jobs, growth and society that we keep at the forefront of innovation, that’s why I launched a competition to research and develop driverless cars. The projects we are now funding in Greenwich, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Coventry will help to ensure we are world-leaders in this field and able to benefit from what is expected to be a £900bn industry by 2025.”
“Technology such as driverless vehicles, intelligent phone apps, and social media, will transform how we travel in the future – making journeys faster, easier, and more connected,” added Steve Yianni, Chief Executive, Transport Systems Catapult. “The UK is at the forefront of this emerging technology and could become the leading supplier of autonomous vehicles and systems around the world.”