Back in July this year, the UK Government announced two new legislative measures to allow self-driving vehicles to be developed and tested on public roads across the nation from January 2015.
As part of the announcement, the current administration announced a £10 million ‘Introducing Driverless Cars’ prize fund to help automakers and academics work with three different cities around the UK to conduct the first official public driverless car tests.
Yesterday, Jaguar Land Rover and Ford were announced by the Innovate UK — a government body devoted to furthering industry and innovation in the UK — as winners of the prize fund. Working alongside AXA insurance, councils in Coventry, and Milton Keynes, the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and the UK’s Open University, the collaborative project is the UK’s biggest ever autonomous drive study.
Working under the joint name of the UK Autodrive consortium, one of the first tasks being undertaken by the group is a real-world test of a Range Rover fitted with autonomous driving technology on the roads of Coventry and Milton Keynes. While the car isn’t fully autonomous, the consortium says the aim of this particular test is to develop a vehicle which is capable of partial autonomy rather than full autonomy.
In addition to testing out Jaguar Land Rover’s semi-autonomous test vehicles, the consortium will also develop and evaluate self-driving ‘Lutz pod’ cars designed for slow-speed driving in pedestrian areas. Like GM’s EN-V self-driving low-speed vehicles and Google’s autonomous drive concept pods, the pods will be used as research vehicles, allowing researchers to help develop appropriate Human Machine Interfaces and eventually, conduct real-world trails of the pods in use.
Finally, the UK Autodrive consortium will be tasked with carrying out a series of feasibility studies which will ultimately help shape self-driving legislation, guide the automotive industry on future self-driving technology, and identify commercial applications of autonomous vehicle technology across the country.
Two separate projects, one in Bristol, and one in Greenwich, have also received some of the £10 million in government funds under the scheme.
Bristol’s scheme — run by the Venturer consortium of Bristol-based academic institutions, councils and businesses — will examine if driverless cars can reduce traffic and improve road safety. Meanwhile, Greenwich’s project, called Gateway, will test automated shuttles, valet parking, and a self-driving car simulator in collaboration with the Transport Research Laboratory consultancy working alongside the AA and RAC.
As with other self-driving projects around the world however, there’s already a strong hint that the end goal won’t necessarily be fully-autonomous vehicles. For the near future at least, we should expect to see vehicles which are capable of high-speed motorway or freeway driving without human interaction, but rely on humans for more delicate operations, such as driving through busy, congested cities.
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