Motorists driving through four English towns and cities could already be sharing the roads with driverless cars.
January 2015 marks the green light for three separate trials designed to test different aspects of self-driving technology.
The areas selected by the Government for trials are Bristol, the London borough of Greenwich, and Milton Keynes and Coventry, which are working together on one project.
The aim of the trials is to establish the UK as a global hub for the development of autonomous vehicle technologies and to integrate driverless vehicles into existing urban environments.
The £19.2m research project is being supported through £10m of funding from Government body Innovate UK, matched by funding from the private sector, local authorities, academic institutions and automotive businesses.
The Government says that testing driverless cars in a real-world environment will help lead to greater levels of understanding of these vehicles. It will also allow the public to accept how the vehicles will fit into everyday life.
Nick Jones, lead technologist for the low carbon vehicle innovation platform at Innovate UK, said: “Cars that drive themselves would represent the most significant transformation in road travel since the introduction of the internal combustion engine and at Innovate UK, we want to help the UK to lead the world in making that happen.“There are so many new and exciting technologies that can come together to make driverless cars a reality, but it’s vital that trials are carried out safely, that the public have confidence in that technology and we learn everything we can through the trials so that legal, regulation and protection issues don’t get in the way in the future.”
The VENTURER consortium has secured funding from Innovate UK to test driverless cars in the Bristol region.
VENTURER is made up of organisations in the South West including Atkins, Bristol City Council, South Gloucestershire Council, AXA, Williams Advanced Engineering, Fusion Processing, Centre for Transport and Society, University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), University of Bristol and Bristol Robotics Laboratory, a collaboration between the University of Bristol and UWE Bristol.
According to reports, the vehicles being tested in Bristol could be similar to pods used at Heathrow Airport to ferry passengers to and from terminals without the need for tracks.
Lee Woodcock, VENTURER project lead and technology director for Atkins’ Highways & Transportation business said: “The VENTURER consortium have joined forces to explore the feasibility of driverless cars in the UK, by trialling autonomous vehicles in the Bristol region, investigating the legal and insurance aspects of driverless cars and exploring how the public react to such vehicles.
“This programme will help keep the UK at the forefront of this transformational technology, helping to deepen our understanding of the impact on road users and wider society and open up new opportunities for our economy and society.”
Partners for the Arup-led consortium running the UK Autodrive trial in Coventry and Milton Keynes include Jaguar Land Rover, Ford, the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, and the Open University.
On-road testing will include “real-world evaluation” of passenger cars with increasing levels of autonomy, as well as the development and evaluation of lightweight fully autonomous self-driving pods designed for pedestrianised spaces.
Jaguar Land Rover will develop and test new Advanced Driver Assistance (ADAS) technologies on a semi-autonomous Range Rover research vehicle on roads in Milton Keynes and Coventry.
Jaguar Land Rover will also develop the “human-machine” interface for driverless pods.
In Greenwich, a consortium led by transport research and testing company TRL will deliver the £8m GATEway - or Greenwich Automated Transport Environment – project.
The GATEway project will see three trials of different types of zero emission automated vehicles within an “innovative, technology-agnostic testing environment” set in the Royal Borough of Greenwich.
The project will include various public tests of fully automated passenger shuttle transport systems and autonomous valet parking for adapted cars.
The automated vehicle technology to be tested will be provided by Phoenix Wings, a company established in Greenwich that has been involved in worldwide demonstrations of automated transport. Crowd-sourcing experts, Commonplace, will use digital and social media tools to map public responses to the trial whilst additional vehicle adaptation and robotics expertise will be provided by GOBOTiX.
The big question facing motorists and manufacturers is whether there is an appetite for driverless cars.
According to respondents to a survey conducted by insurance company Rias, many motorists aren’t that keen, with only 20 per cent of drivers aged 40 or more in the West Midland and south west prepared to consider using a driverless car.
Whether they like it or not, the future has well and truly arrived.