UK to test cars in Milton Keynes first

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Earlier this year when the British government announced an upcoming trial of driverless cars in the UK, there was a bit of a toss up as to where it would take place. Local councils were allowed to put themselves forward as potential candidates, with the chosen one receiving £1.5 million in additional funding to help with the trial. Now it seems Milton Keynes has been chosen, with Google’s driverless and currently control free, pod cars set to show up in early 2015.

To begin with, 20 of the vehicles will be deployed in the Eastern town, though will be limited to a maximum of 12 miles per hour, as per the American versions. By 2017, some 100 of the cars are expected to be put to use in the town, giving us a better idea of how the public will react to the vehicles as well as how well they work on typically less-than-straight British roadways.

As the BBC reports, this is all part of a £75 million government initiative to bring British roadways fully into the 21st century. Automated vehicles are expected to revolutionise not only the roads, reducing traffic and cutting back on green house gas emissions, but several industries could receive a massive boon because of it. Suddenly we have trucks and taxis that can drive themselves, making them 24 hour services, rather than limited to the whims of drivers.

It will also make our roads much safer in theory, since the human driver is almost always to blame when an accident occurs today.

Milton Keynes' grid like roads should suit the pod cars nicely.

Milton Keynes’ grid like roads should suit the pod cars nicely.

Changes to the way we get around could be the most pronounced though. Instead of gripping the wheel, working pedals and if we’re lucky, listening to something interesting on the car stereo, instead ‘drivers’ can watch a movie, read and check emails, browse the internet or perform any number of relaxing and informative activities. While initially those using the pod cars may be required to keep their eyes on the road for insurance purposes, in the long run, it seems likely that we’ll all be looking at our phones or some other in-car display when we are driven around.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “By 2050, very few – if any – new cars will be powered solely by the traditional internal combustion engines, so it is important that the UK car industry is at the cutting edge of low carbon technologies.”

Many however see the future as less driverless cars and more driverless buses. As well as being more efficient by transporting lots of people with one (albeit larger) engine, they also take up even less space per person than the miniature pod cars Google is pushing.

However all driverless technology currently requires mapped out roads, which means we won’t be seeing these sorts of vehicles in rural areas for some time to come. In cities though, it won’t be long before automated vehicles become common place.

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.