In a surprisingly forward thinking move for British politicians, the UK is actually going to be spearheading the driverless car industry by testing several different versions of automated vehicles in four different UK cities. They are: Greenwich, in the south-east of London, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Coventry.
Earlier this year, chancellor George Osbourne pledged £9 million to the project, with the funds set to go to one or two cities that would be trialling piloted vehicles. However, as of the latest Autumn Statement, he’s updated that pledge with an additional £10 million to help cover some of the other cities joining the scheme.
Bristol’s testing will be handled by the Venturer consortium, a group of businesses and organisations (including Atkins, Bristol City Council, South Gloucestershire Council, AXA, Fusion Processing and a number of local universities) that will not only trial several driverless vehicles in the local area, to see whether the roadways can handle it, but will also be looking at the public’s reaction to the technology. This will involve surveys and individual test runs for people. The group will also be looking into how insurance and road regulations might come into play in certain situations and how laws might need tweaking to make them applicable for driverless cars.
In Greenwich, the Gateway scheme will test several piloted vehicles “within an innovative, technology-agnostic testing environment set in the Royal Borough of Greenwich.” It will also act as a demonstration for automated vehicles to the public, giving them an opportunity to ride in the entirely electric shuttles. Technology for the testing will be provided by an established piloted transport company, called Phoenix Wings, which has a strong presence in Greenwich already.
The third and final project will be shared between Milton Keynes and Coventry. They’ll be hosting the UK Autodrive programme, which will include input from the likes of Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover and engineering consultancy firm, Arup. Their testing will look into things like roadways and how they might need to be improved to help better implement automated vehicles on British roads all throughout the country.
“Our plan with the practical demonstration phases is to start testing with single vehicles on closed roads, and to build up to a point where all road users, as well as legislators, the police and insurance companies, are confident about how driverless pods and fully and partially autonomous cars can operate safely on UK roads,” said Tim Armitage from Arup.
There ahs been much debate in the past about whether it would be better to automate the cars, or the roadways, thereby making the highways themselves smart. However, due to the potential expenditure involved, it’s likely that we’ll move more towards small, electric,driverless shuttles, taxis and buses to begin with, eventually moving to automated lorries, trucks and cars in the next decade or so.
All of that is just speculation though. It’s these sorts of trials that are set to take place next year, that will tell us a lot more about the future (potential and real) of hands-free driving on the road.