The UK Government is offering rewards to individuals and teams that can dream up ways to make the country's infrastructure ready for new developments, like electric and autonomous cars.
The ‘Roads for the Future' competition, launched by Highways England and the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), offers part of a £200,000 pool to people who can dream up and implement ways to adapt existing roads to fit these new technologies. It is particularly looking for ideas that can work on different types of roads, from motor ways to country lanes.
The competition is also looking at ways to ensure that autonomous and human-piloted vehicles can be driven safely together.
Each of the highest-ranking candidates will take up to £30,000; five projects are expected to receive the funds.
On completion, the NIC will give a further £50,000 to the applicant deemed to have developed the best project.
The competition will run until the 14th March.
Sir John Armitt, deputy chairman of the NIC, said: We're seeing a revolution on our roads, as more and more people move away from the traditional petrol and diesel car and towards new electric vehicles; the next step, driverless cars, will make an even bigger impact.
"Our Roads for the Future competition offers the chance to be at the cutting edge of shaping how we travel for generations to come.
"That's why we want to put people's minds to this test.
"Whether from industry or academia, we want to see them submit their ideas for developing a world-class roads network that can meet the challenge that this new technology presents."
The competition was welcomed by the RAC, with chief engineer David Bizley commenting: "The National Infrastructure Commission's competition opens the door not only for stakeholders to have a say in the future of our road network but also for road users themselves to engage in the process.
"Upgrading and adapting our road infrastructure is clearly a priority not only for today's journeys but also for getting the best out of our connected vehicles in the next and subsequent decades."
However, not everyone is convinced that autonomous vehicles are guaranteed to be ‘the future'. At CES last week, author, former journalist and transport industry veteran Christian Wolmar told The Register: "This is a fantasy that has not been thought through, and is being promoted by technology and auto manufacturers because tech companies have vast amounts of footloose capital they don't know what to do with, and auto manufacturers are terrified they're not on board with the new big thing… So billions are being spent developing technology that nobody has asked for, that will not be practical, and that will have many damaging effects."
He has a point about tech and auto makers. Ford just announced an $11 billion investment into driverless and electric technology.
Wolmar added that the hype around autonomous vehicles "rests on sand. There are no foundations to this notion that these pods are going to replace the car parked on our driveways. There's no path to which we might get there. It's not a steady development - 99.95 per cent of cars are still being driven. The autonomous cars will have to deal with breakdowns, jaywalkers, roadworks and lines of parked cars, broken traffic lights and so on."
Wolmar has previously written about the problems with driverless cars, and recently published a book (Driverless cars: On a road to nowhere) on the topic.
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