Driverless car takes to public roads in Milton Keynes
Image credit: Oxbotica
In a UK first, a driverless car carrying passengers is starting trials on public roads in Milton Keynes.
The car, developed by Oxbotica, an Oxford University spin-out company, will test how pedestrians and other road users react to driverless vehicles.
“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 presents 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 two-seater pod will operate fully without human control, using data from cameras and radars to move around pedestrianised areas.
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 ahead of the trial.
The Buckinghamshire town, around 45 miles north of London, was selected alongside three other locations for autonomous technology projects partly because of its wide pavements and cycle-path network.
The UK government is encouraging technology companies, carmakers and start-ups to develop and test their autonomous driving technologies in Britain, aiming to have autonomous cars on the roads by the end of the decade.
Car-makers including Jaguar Land Rover and Ford are developing driverless technology in the UK, hoping to catch up with Google, which has been working on driverless cars in the USA since 2014.
Earlier this year, the government 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.
There are still substantial technological and legal obstacles to be overcome, notably who would be responsible if a driverless car caused an accident.
Britain is aiming to be more flexible in its approach to driverless testing than some other major economies. Germany, for example, said it will require black boxes to be fitted in such vehicles. In the US, auto-makers face different rules in each US state.
The worldwide market for autonomous driving technologies is expected to be worth up to £900bn by 2025.