Driverless cars have arrived in the UK. On Tuesday, four automated vehicles were on display in Greenwich to announce trials that are set to begin in London, Bristol, Milton Keynes, and Coventry. It’s part of a £19 million project, the UK Department for Transport announced today.
We were able to hop in one of the cars. It looks more like a golf buggy, or a theme park mini-bus. Still, it journeyed completely on its own in a public place and didn’t crash into anything. It’s the next step in driverless technology, which the government hopes will reduce congestion and accidents, and create employment.
The car we tried out is called the Meridian Shuttle. Today was first official trial of a fully autonomous vehicle in the country. Here it is:
The shuttle works on its own, following a pre-determined pattern entered into the on-board computer. Our operator for the day, Dr Nick Reed of transport developers TRL, simply pressed three buttons to ask the car to travel forwards. We went about 500 ft. and stopped next to the O2 Arena. And then, funnily enough, we rode back again.
The Financial Times was there on the day too and posted a Vine:
Here’s Dr Reed, telling us about the technology as we set off.
On our way back, the vehicle encountered a random pedestrian walking by, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was striding past the future. He walked in front of the car, which reacted by slowing down until the man was safely out of the way. Quite impressive!
The technology was developed by Oxford University and Japanese car manufacturer Nissan.
The Department for Transport has been reviewing automated vehicle trials for the past six months. It writes in a press release today that today’s launch marks the UK’s “strong intent” to take the technology to the next level. It’s not really clear what “the next level” is, but essentially it’s all about actually seeing fully functioning driverless cars on British roads.
This is the computer. It’s called “Navya.”
Because there are only pre-planned routes where the Meridian can go at the moment, it has to be manually driven back to its garage. To do so, an Xbox 360 controller is used …
The other cars on show were the Pod, designed with a patriotic Union Flag painted on its outer frame. This prototype is set to drive on Milton Keynes’ pavements in the next few months (yes, the sidewalk pavements, because pedestrians are unpredictable and the trials are all about testing safety.)
This is the Lutz Pod and is the actual driverless car unveiled in Greenwich. It’s the sort of thing we might ride in on city roads — the shuttle will more likely be used to ferry people around large stadium complexes or airports.
Here’s the Pod rolling around. BBC South Today filmed it in action:
Also in Greenwich today was the BAE Wildcat, which is by far the coolest-looking car of the bunch.
In the DoT press release Business Secretary Vince Cable notes how he wants the UK to be “world leaders” in the industry and expects driverless technology to create “£900 billion” in economic activity worldwide by 2025. (Cable offered no explanation of how he calculated that very high number.)
Cable also says the automotive sector will boost high-skilled jobs across the country. The Pod’s maker, the RDM Group, is based in Coventry.