Driverless Cars to Hit UK Roads by 2019

The idea of the autonomous, or driverless, car has been around for many moons. However, over the last couple of years this has gone…

The idea of the autonomous, or driverless, car has been around for many moons. However, over the last couple of years this has gone from a distant invention to a very real prospect.

You may recall an article we published earlier this year, discussing the implications of driverless cars on the insurance industry, and the particularly difficult subject of liability.  According to plans unveiled today, we could see driverless cars being tested on our motorways and roads as soon as 2019!

A British consortium led by driverless software developers Oxbotica, known as The Driven group, is planning to test run a fleet of autonomous vehicles along the M40 between London and Oxford.  Although the cars will be able to communicate with each other, sharing information about potential upcoming hazards and so on, there will still be a human driver present.

This will be the first time a driverless fleet has been tested on public roads in the UK, at normal speeds. Previous tests have taken place on roads which were closed to the public, and the vehicles were travelling well below average speeds.

The reason for testing a fleet as opposed to individual vehicles, is to see how well the cars manage to communicate with each other. Professor Paul Newman, founder of The Driven group,  said “what’s interesting is what data the vehicles share with one another, when and why?”.

Even since the very early stages of autonomous development, the UK government has been a firm backer of developing autonomous vehicles. So far, it has invested over £100m in dedicated autonomous driving projects, and is keen for Britain to be a leading global figure in developing the technology. This current project has received a generous £8.6m government grant, and is being worked on alongside a large insurance company which will assess the risks over the course of the project.

However, despite their efforts, many experts feel the UK is significantly behind in comparison to development being done overseas. Professor David Bailey of the Aston Business school pointed out that “the Obama government…proposed spending billions of dollars over 10 years”, and the work being done by Google in the US, Daimler in Germany and Volvo in China, makes work done in the UK seem relatively small fry.

When this technology does finally hit the market, the hopes are that it will make driving safer, drive down the price of car insurance premiums, and ultimately save lives and money.