The government has approved driverless car tests on UK public roads. The tests will take place in Greenwich, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Coventry, where a variety of vehicles will be put through their paces in various environments.
The Department of Transport's Pathway to Driverless Cars report said that the UK is the "ideal centre" for testing driverless cars as it has "some of the most challenging and diverse traffic, road and weather conditions in Europe".
The Coventry and Milton Keynes tests will be carried out with driverless Lutz (Low-carbon Urban Transport Zone) Pathfinder 'pods' (pictured above and on the left). The pod was shown off at an event at the O2, attended by V3.
The pods use navigation technology developed by the University of Oxford's Mobile Robotics Group, and have 22 external sensors monitoring the environment for any dangers.
The Meridian shuttle (pictured below) will be tested in Greenwich under the £8m GATEway initiative. This trial will run on the Greenwich peninsula, an area often swarming with tourists, which should prove a good test of its capabilities.
The GATEway project will also involve testing autonomous valet parking, "enabling users to exit their vehicle while it finds a specified parking space autonomously".
A third test will take place after these first two, based on the feedback and findings from the initial trials.
In Bristol, work will take place on a Wildcat jeep based on advanced research and development by BAE Systems (pictured below).
Claire Perry, parliamentary under-secretary at the Department of Transport, said that the UK's legal and regulatory framework should not be a barrier to testing automated vehicles on public roads.
"We are setting out the best possible framework to support the testing of automated vehicles, to encourage the largest global businesses to come to the UK to develop and test their technologies," she said.
The report also outlined regulations designed to keep motorists and pedestrians safe without hampering driverless car development.
This code of practice will cover areas such as safety, liability and data recording, and tests of autonomous cars will require a driver to supervise the vehicle.
"Real-world testing of automated vehicles on public roads is possible in the UK today, providing that a test driver is present and takes responsibility for the safe operation of the vehicle, and that the vehicle can be used compatibly with road traffic law," the report said.
Cyber security concerns
The report also highlighted how the high levels of internet connected technology in autonomous vehicles means that cyber security will need to be considered.
"The manufacturers providing vehicles for testing will need to ensure that all prototype automated controllers and other vehicle systems have appropriate levels of security built in," the report said.
"The key government and industry bodies will continue to work closely together on protecting these technologies against any potential cyber security issues."
The report also noted a need for ‘fail safe' control systems that allow manual control of braking and steering if necessary.
The security problem has already been highlighted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology which lists it as a top priority for driverless cars.
The report did acknowledge that fully autonomous vehicles are still some way off, despite car manufacturers creating their own take on the technology.
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