Driverless cars will hit UK streets from 2015

Picture credit: Catapult

Starting 1 January, driverless cars will become a common sight in four English cities as government quango Innovate UK announces £9 million of extra funding for the technology’s development.

The news came as part of the government’s autumn financial statement, with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne green lighting the funding himself.

Formal trials are expected to occur in Greenwich, Milton Keynes, Coventry and Bristol for the duration of 18 to 35 months. Milton Keynes and Coventry will be collaborating together on the one project.

Public acceptance

While the main purpose of the trial is to better understand driverless vehicles, Innovate also explained in a statement how it wants these tests to help the UK public come to terms with how they could potentially fit into their daily routine.

The quango’s lead technologist, Nick Jones, championed the trials as a major development in transportation, the likes of which have not been seen since the dawn of vehicles.

“Cars that drive themselves would represent the most significant transformation in road travel since the introduction of the internal combustion engine and at Innovate UK, we want to help the UK to lead the world in making that happen,” he said.

“There are so many new and exciting technologies that can come together to make driverless cars a reality, but it’s vital that trials are carried out safely, that the public have confidence in that technology and we learn everything we can through the trials so that legal, regulation and protection issues don’t get in the way in the future.”

Venturer project

Bristol, one of the cities involved in the trials, will be contributing under its Venturer project, which is a partnership between Atkins, Bristol City Council, South Gloucestershire Council, AXA, Williams Advanced Engineering and Fusion Processing among others.

The University of Bristol, another of Venturer’s partners, forms part of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and the educational institute’s senior lecturer in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Dr Robert Piechocki, was reiterated the importance of public goodwill if driverless cars are to get off the ground.

““Intelligent sensing and reliable wireless connectivity will be pivotal for the development of autonomous city transportation systems,” he said. “Public acceptance can only be gained if those systems can be shown to offer safe and convenient alternative.”

Although the government has set aside £19 million of funding for the trials since July, each business involved will also provide investment of its own when this driverless scheme commences early next year.

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