Today, for the first time in the UK, driverless vehicles are hitting the streets, as part of a testing initiative across five British cities.
Up first is the extremely patriotic “Catapult Lutz Pathfinder” electric car designed in Coventry. It will drive back and forth between Milton Keynes railway station and the local shopping centre for about three years, while a computer in the back traces its journeys:
Image: Transport Systems Catapult.
As you can see, there’s still a steering wheel, and the pod will have a “driver” during its tests to make sure nothing goes wrong.
In Greenwich, meanwhile, eight “autonomous shuttles” will shunt up and down the North Greenwich plaza beside the O2 Arena over the next three years. They look a bit like plush golf buggies:
Image: Department for Transportation.
From the Guardian, who were on the scene at the shuttle’s unveiling:
Some passersby stared open-mouthed while others remained engrossed in smartphones, inadvertently testing out the vehicle’s automatic object detection and emergency stop.
Both models are being tested on pedestrian walkways, rather than roads. This means they will move more slowly, but there’s also a greater chance of a collisison with gormless pedestrians like those in the quote above.
The cares are also still limited in terms of their speed – they won’t go faster than 12mph in either trial – and, according to Nick Reed, technical leader of the Greenwich project, the technology “doesn’t work well in snowy or foggy environments”.
In summary, we’re still a long way off autonomous road vehicles – but at least the UK prototypes are so far much cheaper than Google’s models, and come with a great big British flag on them.
You can read more about driverless cars here.
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