The UK government has announced that, from January next year, driverless cars will be allowed on public roads, and are inviting cities to compete for one of the three trials being launched at the same time.
Vince Cable, Business Secretary, publicised the plans at the automotive engineering firm, Mira’s, research facility, stating that,
“Today’s announcement will see driverless cars take to our streets in less than six months, putting us at the forefront of this transformational technology and opening up new opportunities for our economy and society”.
Although, the Department for Transport originally announced that driverless cars would be trialled on public roads before the end of 2013, but concerns over legal and insurance issues restricted their use to private roads.
Other countries have overcome these restrictions, such as the US States of California, Florida and Nevada have approved testing the vehicles, with Google’s car having completed over 300,000 miles in California, 2013 saw Nissan carry out road tests in Japan and Sweden has given Volvo the permission to test 100 driverless cars in the city of Gothenburg, all be it not until 2017.
Those cities wanting to take part in the trials have until October to express their interest. The three winners will have a fund of £10m divided between them, with the testing expected to run or between 18 to 36 months.
To aid the trials, civil servants have until the end of this year to produce a review of road regulations, covering areas such as, the need for driverless cars to comply with road safety and traffic laws, and changes to the Highway Code. While assessing the relevance where a driver can take back control of the vehicle and where no driver is at all required.
The concept of the ‘driverless car’ has been gradually developing for some time, with many everyday vehicles offering a degree of autonomy, such as cruise control, automatic braking, and anti-lane drift.
However, the term is now describing those that take control of steering, accelerating, indicating and braking from the majority, if not all, of a journey. In order to achieve this the cars use innovative technology, such as Lidar which measures how lasers bounce off reflective surfaces, capturing information about millions of points surrounding the vehicle. This is also joined by a technique known as ‘computer vision’, software that is able to make sense of 360 degree images captures, thus being able to warn of pedestrians, cyclists, and objects that may be in the vehicle’s path.
Driverless cars can also use technology such as GPS, radar, ultrasonic sensors, and other sensors to measure orientation and wheel rotation.
With the technology in place, the debate is whether to allow a passenger to take control of the vehicle at a moment’s notice, or abandon all controls and entirely remove the need of a ‘driver’.
Source: BBC News