Driver­less cars get UK road tests, plus Ap­ple’s lat­est hard­ware and soft­ware re­leases

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THE STREETS OF Mil­ton Keynes and Coven­try are soon to wel­come a new kind of driver and a new kind of car. A car that doesn’t have a driver, un­less you count ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ro­bot­ics. The streets will see the largest road test in the coun­try so far, as the gov­ern­ment has awarded ap­proval to the UK Au­to­drive project for real-world tri­als.

UK Au­to­drive has al­ready car­ried out a se­ries of tests on a prov­ing track in Nuneaton, War­wick­shire. The tri­als were used to as­sess how ri­val com­pa­nies’ cars com­mu­ni­cate when out in the wild, how well they warn each other of their ap­proaches and how well they cope with sud­den break­ing in poor vis­i­bil­ity.

“UK Au­to­drive is the first project in the UK to show­case the ben­e­fits of hav­ing cars that can talk to each other across mul­ti­ple makes of car,” the project ex­plained.

UK Au­to­drive is at least par­tially sup­ported by the gov­ern­ment, and its work has won of­fi­cial ap­proval.

The UK’s roads in­no­va­tion min­is­ter John Hayes said: “This tech­nol­ogy has the po­ten­tial to rev­o­lu­tionise travel by mak­ing jour­neys safer and cut­ting con­ges­tion for mo­torists. I’m proud that the UK is a world leader when it comes to de­vel­op­ing con­nected and au­to­mated ve­hi­cles, and we are fur­ther es­tab­lish­ing our­selves as the place to test and in­vest in this emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy.”

Jaguar Land Rover, Ford and Tata Mo­tors Euro­pean Tech­ni­cal Cen­tre have all con­trib­uted to get Au­to­drive to the UK’s streets. The Mil­ton Keynes and Coven­try tri­als will start this year, ini­tially in a seg­re­gated sec­tion of roads be­fore grad­u­at­ing on to the real streets.

Pedes­trian ar­eas will not be spared the au­ton­o­mous ex­pe­ri­ence. Peo­ple will get to see a fleet of up to 40 self-driv­ing pave­ment-based pod ve­hi­cles head­ing right for them and dive out of their way.

The tri­als will help to show off a range of driver­less car fea­tures, in­clud­ing emer­gency warn­ings be­tween ve­hi­cles and in­ter­sec­tion col­li­sion warn­ings that ad­vise against pulling out into traf­fic. The cars can also de­cide to take eva­sive ac­tion from on­com­ing emer­gency ve­hi­cles.

Tim Ar­mitage, Arup’s UK Au­to­drive project di­rec­tor, said: “The suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of the prov­ing ground tri­als marks a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone for the project team, and we are now look­ing for­ward to demon­strat­ing the ben­e­fits of these ex­cit­ing new tech­nolo­gies in the real-world set­tings of Mil­ton Keynes and Coven­try.

“Once the tech­nol­ogy be­comes widely avail­able, we an­tic­i­pate huge po­ten­tial ben­e­fits in terms of road safety, im­proved traf­fic flow and gen­eral ac­cess to trans­port, so we’re re­ally ex­cited about be­ing able to demon­strate this on real roads.”


THERE ARE NO clear laws sur­round­ing au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles, and cre­at­ing work­able leg­is­la­tion may prove dif­fi­cult. There’s also the question of in­sur­ance, which will need a whole new re­think across the in­dus­try.

The so­phis­ti­cated tech­nol­ogy on board sug­gests that ve­hi­cles will not be a cheap al­ter­na­tive to nor­mal cars, for want of a bet­ter word. They will look cu­ri­ous, espe­cially if they are pop­u­lar. A queue of driver­less cars would be a scary jam to be in. And hard­line foot-to-the-floor driv­ers may take of­fence at be­ing side­lined to the hard shoul­der.

This year, the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics (LSE) re­leased re­search into the UK at­ti­tude to­wards driver­less cars and found that 55% of driv­ers would feel un­com­fort­able shar­ing the road with driver­less cars and that four-fifths of them would still want the re­as­sur­ance of a steer­ing wheel.

“Al­though many driv­ers are mak­ing in­creas­ing use of dis­crete au­to­mated sys­tems within the car, such as cruise con­trol or park­ing as­sist, nev­er­the­less a gut feel­ing per­sists that there needs to be a hu­man driver in con­trol of the ve­hi­cle,” said Dr Chris Ten­nant, from the Depart­ment of Psy­cho­log­i­cal and Be­havioural Science at the LSE. “De­spite the high pro­file for driver­less tech­nol­ogy in the me­dia to­day, it’s clear that many peo­ple still have fun­da­men­tal mis­giv­ings about the tech­nol­ogy. Our re­search iden­ti­fies a num­ber of deep-seated reser­va­tions – from the will­ing­ness to give up con­trol, to the re­li­a­bil­ity of the tech­nol­ogy and the ve­hi­cle’s abil­ity to in­te­grate into the so­cial space that is the road.”

Stud­ies have made it clear that in cer­tain places driver­less cars will not be wel­come. The Bri­tain

un­der the Bon­net re­port from Close Brothers Mo­tor Fi­nance ex­haled slowly through its teeth, shook its head and said that 15% of pun­ters don’t trust the tech­nol­ogy, while 50% agreed that they wouldn’t buy one or didn’t like the idea of a driver­less ve­hi­cle.

A gut feel­ing per­sists that there needs to be a hu­man driver in con­trol of the ve­hi­cle” Dr Chris Ten­nant, Depart­ment of Psy­cho­log­i­cal and Be­havioural Science, LSE

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