We knew the U.K. government had given the go ahead to start testing driverless cars on British public roads from this January — backed by £10 million of taxpayer money — but we didn’t exactly know where and by whom. My hope was that Milton Keynes would be chosen, simply because it is a town almost entirely made up of roundabouts. And, indeed, Milton Keynes does make this list.
Today, Innovate UK, the government quango charged with overseeing the country’s driverless plans, announced that our robot driver overlords will get their first crack at navigating the roads of Greenwich (in South East London), Bristol, and Coventry, in addition to Milton Keynes.
The U.K. chancellor, as part of his Autumn statement (even though it’s now winter!), also announced an additional £9 million of taxpayer money towards said driverless car projects. The plan is to put Blighty at the forefront of driverless car technology innovation.
Specifically, Greenwich will be home to the Gateway scheme, led by Transport Research Laboratory, which is looking into “automated shuttle vehicles”, remote-controlled driving and the creation of a simulated 3D model of the area.
Meanwhile, Bristol will host the Venturer consortium — whose members include local government and the insurance group Axa. It aims to investigate whether driverless cars can reduce congestion and make roads safer, as well as taking the temperature on public attitudes towards the technology and, unsurprisingly, insurance and legal implications.
Lastly, Milton Keynes and Coventry, who are to share a single project, will host the UK Autodrive programme. The project’s team consists of car companies Ford, and Jaguar Land Rover, along with engineering consultancy Arup, and universities Oxford, Cambridge and the Open University, among others. It plans to test both driverless cars on public roads, and self-driving “pods” designed for pedestrianised areas. Close your eyes for a minute and just imagine the latter. Now breathe again.
What’s also interesting about the U.K. government’s continued driverless car push is that, as far as I can tell, Google isn’t in sight. Despite how much mindshare the search giant has grabbed around its moonshot efforts to develop autonomous cars, there are many other companies and organisations — and indeed governments — taking part in this particular space race.