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