£20m boost for driverless cars

The government is keen to speed up research and development into driverless cars – and it’s putting its money where its mouth is with a £20 million fund.
Driverless vehicle
It also wants to draw up a code of practice to help make the UK one of the top places in the world to test autonomous vehicles. But the Conservatives aren’t just giving away the cash. Companies will instead have to compete for a share of the money with proposals to test the safety and reliability of driverless cars.

Independence day

The government is also keen to explore how autonomous vehicles can communicate with each other and their environment, as well as how they can help give an ageing population greater independence. Successful bidders will then have to match fund projects with their own money. The £20 million competition is part of the £100 million fund announced by the Chancellor in the spring Budget. In fact, the UK fancies itself as something of a pioneer of so-called intelligent mobility, a smart move when the market is expected to be worth £900 billion by 2025.

Testing times

Tests of driverless vehicles are already underway in Greenwich, Milton Keynes, Bristol and Coventry. For example, the Meridian Shuttle in Greenwich looks like a futuristic golf buggy and is operated by selecting one of a number of routes programmed into a touch pad. The trials are intended to gauge the success of the technology as well as the public’s reaction.

Thinking space

Many of us already drive cars that can effectively think for themselves. Modern vehicles use various hi tech systems, such as cruise control and self-parking, which allow the driver to take a back seat. Safety is a big issue with driverless cars. Can we really trust a car that’s driven by a computer? There have been no reported incidents during the UK trials. But in America, three Google employees were recently injured in a crash involving one of the company’s self-driving cars. However, it’s worth pointing out that a human motorist drove into the back of the driverless car while it was stationary.

Being human

Human error is certainly a trend. There have been 14 accidents in six years and about 1.9 million miles of testing of Google self-drive cars – and not one was caused by a car that was driving itself. Chris Urmson, head of Google’s self-driving car programme, says: “The clear theme is human error and inattention. We’ll take all this as a signal that we’re starting to compare favourably with human drivers.” It makes sense really. After all, if a computer controls the car, there is no possibility of human error. The software doesn’t get tired, drunk or make mistakes. No wonder self-driving vehicles are predicted to save more than 2,500 lives and prevent more than 25,000 serious accidents a year on Britain’s roads by 2030, according to KPMG, the consulting firm. So maybe we should all get behind the government’s drive to fund research and development of autonomous vehicles. It could not only save us the trouble of steering our own car, bur could save lives, too.

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