LONDON – A driverless vehicle carrying passengers will take to Britain’s public roads for the first time on Tuesday as part of trials aimed at paving the way for autonomous cars to hit the highways by the end of the decade.
Our autonomous vehicle out on the road again! Greenwich yesterday, Milton Keynes today. Wherever next? pic.twitter.com/qp3cRaZD8a
— Oxbotica (@oxbotica) August 10, 2016
The government is encouraging technology companies, car makers and start-ups to develop and test their autonomous driving technologies in Britain, aiming to build an industry to serve a worldwide market that it forecasts could be worth around 900-billion pounds (R15.3-trillion) by 2025.
Earlier this year, it launched a consultation on changes to insurance rules and motoring regulations to allow driverless cars to be used by 2020 and said it would allow such vehicles to be tested on motorways from next year.
A pod – like a small two-seater car – developed by a company spun out from Oxford University will be tested in the southern English town of Milton Keynes on Tuesday, with organisers hoping the trials will feed vital information on how the vehicle interacts with pedestrians and other road users.
“Today’s first public trials of driverless vehicles in our towns is a ground-breaking moment,” Britain’s business minister, Greg Clark, said.
“The global market for autonomous vehicles present huge opportunities for our automotive and technology firms and the research that underpins the technology and software will have applications way beyond autonomous vehicles,” he said.
The pod will operate fully without human control, using data from cameras and radars to move around pedestrianised areas.
It was made by Oxford University spin-off Oxbotica, with software developed by the university’s Oxford Robotics Institute.
Jaguar Land Rover and Ford are both part of driverless car projects in Britain as major car makers seek to head off the challenge from technology firms such as Alphabet Inc’s Google, which is also developing autonomous vehicles.
But all parties still need to overcome technological and legal obstacles including determining who would be responsible in the event of an accident, with recent accidents involving driving assistance systems raising safety concerns.
Organisers in Milton Keynes ran a number of exercises ahead of the trial, including mapping the town and conducting safety planning with the local council.
The city, about 70km north of London, was selected along with three other locations for autonomous technology projects partly due to its wide pavements and cycle path network.
Britain is aiming to be more flexible in its approach to driverless testing than some other major economies, with Germany saying it will require black boxes to be fitted in such vehicles and automakers having to navigate different rules across US states.