UK Government Launches £20 Million Competitive Fund, Guidelines for Testing Self-Driving Cars

Back in February this year, the UK Government launched a £20 million multi-agency, government-backed study into autonomous vehicles with the commencement of several different self-driving trails across the island nation.

The new £20 million fund will help promote autonomous vehicle development in the UK

The new £20 million fund will help promote autonomous vehicle development in the UK

Covering everything from full-size, highway-capable cars through to small self-driving urban vehicles designed for transporting commuters and tourists alike, the project involved parter agencies ranging from academic institutions to city councils, insurance providers and automakers. Its goal? To put the UK at the forefront of the driverless car revolution.

On Sunday, that goal was furthered by the announcement of a further £20 million of funding from the Conservative government in the form of a new competitive fund designed to facilitate the development of driverless vehicle technology in the UK.

Championed by Business Secretary Sajid Javid and Transport Minister Andrew Jones, the £20 million funding is part of a new £100 million set aside by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the recent — and heavily criticised —  Spring 2015 Budget.

The funds are open to both full-size autonomous vehicles and city-centre low-speed vehicles.

The funds are open to both full-size autonomous vehicles and city-centre low-speed vehicles.

Alongside the announcement of the additional funding, the UK Government’s Department for Transport published a 14-page document detailing a code of practice to be followed by any institution, or commercial entity wanting to test autonomous vehicle technology on the roads of the UK.

It includes basic guidance on how autonomous vehicles should behave on the public roads — including the stipulation that they adhere to the same rules and regulations as a human driver — and that an autonomous test vehicle is accompanied at all times by a fully qualified driver with appropriate training.

That’s essentially the same stipulation given in California, where autonomous vehicles are now allowed to publicly test on the state’s roads provided they are accompanied by a fully trained, fully licensed driver at all times.

Other practices outlined in the code of practice cover the use of limited-speed vehicles in off-road scenarios, how vehicles with dual controls should allow for safe, seamless transition between human and autonomous driving modes, and the remote overriding of vehicles with no traditional controls.

It's not clear how many companies will apply for the funding, but it could include major automakers already building self-driving cars.

It’s not clear how many companies will apply for the funding, but it could include major automakers already building self-driving cars.

“Driverless cars will bring great benefits to our society and economy and I want the UK to lead the way in developing this exciting technology,” said Transport Minister Andrew Jones of the guidelines published. “Our code of practice clearly shows that the UK is in the best position when it comes to testing driverless cars and embracing the motoring of the future. We now look forward to working with industry to make this a reality.”

In order to be considered for the funds put forward under the new scheme, applicants must put forward a bid proposal in one or more of the key areas defined under the scope of the program: autonomous vehicle safety; autonomous vehicle reliability; inter-autonomous vehicle communication; vehicle to infrastructure (V2X) communication; and how autonomous vehicles can help the ageing British population retain their independence as they age.

If successful, bidders must match awarded government funds with their own money pound for pound.

With the newly elected majority government keen to promote the UK as a hub for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) the new £20 million fund for autonomous vehicle technology will certainly help propel it in the right direction.

But with many other parts of the UK government spending — namely health, public sector pay and welfare — all suffering major budget cuts, we’re not sure how long it will be before there’s a backlash against projects like this.

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