Self-driving cars may soon be on our roads with the first fully autonomous car having been tested on the streets of the UK.
The two-seater “LUTZ Pathfinder” travelled a total of 1.25 miles (2km) through pedestrianised areas of Milton Keynes. It reached speeds of up to 15mph while having to navigate pedestrians and cyclists. There was a driver on board to take over the control of the vehicle in the case of emergency.
The cars, built by Transport Systems Catapult (TSC), used virtual maps of the Buckinghamshire town to manoeuvre around the train station and business district.
Both Google and Uber have previously tested autonomous vehicles on American roads, however previous UK trials have involved a human manually operating the vehicle.
Fully automated cars are not expected to be in use and production in the UK for about 10 years, however the government is keen to show that Britain is at the forefront of developing and utilising driverless technology.
Earlier this year, ministers launched a consultation on changes to motor insurance rules and the Highway Code. This is aimed at allowing self-driving cars to be on the roads by 2020.
The business secretary, Greg Clark, said: “The global market for autonomous vehicles presents huge opportunities for our automotive and technology firms.
“The research that underpins the technology and software will have applications way beyond autonomous vehicles.”
This state of the art two-seater vehicle utilises lidar; a process similar to radar which uses light from lasers to gauge the surrounding area and avoid accidents.
The recent demonstration marks the end of the 18 months that TSC (a not-for-profit research organisation funded by a combination of public money and private sector investment) have spent on the development of the car.
TSC commented that the Milton Keynes trial had been a success and the vehicles had operated as expected.
The test was also used to gauge the public’s reaction to the new technology and following the success; TSC can begin work on the regulatory architecture that will govern autonomous vehicles.
TSC said it had worked with Milton Keynes council on safety planning and hoped that the trial showed driverless vehicles could be used for transportation in other towns.
Neil Fulton, the TSC programme director stated: “Driverless vehicles are coming to Britain and what we have demonstrated today is a huge step on that journey.”
He announced that the successful tests in Milton Keynes were to pave the way for further research and trials participated in by UK universities and small businesses.
The software Selenium, which is in charge of the vehicle, was developed by a group of scientists, mathematicians and engineers from the Oxford Robotics Institute, through a company called Oxbotica.
Driverless car tests have had very mixed results in the US, where the technology is further developed than in the UK.
Uber is far ahead of its competitors after putting out its Ford Fusions as part of the companies taxi service in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Fusion does not require hands on the wheel.
Uber is also in development of a driverless car with Swedish carmaker Volvo.
However, there are complications with fully autonomous cars with electric car company Tesla raising concerns about the implications of driverless vehicles in May, after one of its cars using the autopilot mode was involved in a fatal crash.
Last month, one of Google’s self-driving cars collided with another vehicle after the latter ran through a red light.
Ministers wish for the UK to become a world leader in the driverless vehicle market, which may be worth an estimated £900 billion by 2025, according to a study conducted by KPMG.
In the budget in March, the then chancellor George Osborne announced that self-driving cars could be tested on British motorways as early as next year.
Picture from RDM Group driverless pod.