Standing in what feels like a hot tub on wheels on a chilly morning in the shadow of one of London’s most iconic landmarks might not seem futuristic or glamorous, but it could be the start of an exciting journey to make the UK a world leader in driverless cars.
This tram lookalike on wheels is the Meridian shuttle, and it’s one of three vehicles displayed outside the O2 which will be trialled in the UK over the next three years to help scientists, manufacturers and politicians understand how the roads of the future will look.
Just six months ago, ministers announced £19million would be ploughed into driverless research, and already we have three working prototypes that will begin testing this year.
So how realistic is it to expect the UK to challenge these heavyweights and lead the way in welcoming driverless cars on to public roads?
A lengthy review suggests very realistic. The Government is taking a “non-regulatory” approach to testing that goes against most other decisions dithered over by MPs.
In the UK, those wanting to test driverless vehicles openly on public roads won’t have to gain any certificate or permit. A Code of Practice will be published this spring, which testers will have to adhere to, but there will be no legal hoops to jump through.
Business Secretary Vince Cable told Auto Express this is what makes the UK the ideal test bed compared to rival countries. “In the US and continental Europe, they don’t at the moment have regulatory framework to make it possible, which we do,” he said.
These rules and regulations form part of the Government’s ‘Pathway to Driverless Cars’ review, which lays out the various challenges the industry will need to overcome, including insurance policies, driving licences and car maintenance.
Beyond the legal issues, though, is the technology. Recently, the UK has enjoyed a rise in car production, with Nissan expanding in Sunderland, Bentley growing in Crewe, Cheshire, and Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) continuing to invest heavily in the Midlands.
Transport minister Claire Perry added: “I would like to make Britain the centre of autonomous vehicle manufacture. We know all major manufacturers are interested and, as the review has shown, Britain is the ideal place to run trials which need to be real world.”
“While the car will be able to drive itself if the driver chooses, our aim is to assist and enhance the driver – and ultimately offer levels of autonomy to suit the driver’s mood or needs on and off-road.”
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