Driverless Cars Hitting UK Roads this Year

Although a completely self-guided car still feels futuristic, the first public road test of driverless cars in the UK is due to take place later in 2013. Driverless car technology could potentially reduce collision rates and boost automotive efficiency, but there’s a long way to go to turn this concept into a reality. Guided by a combination of cameras and sensors, these cars use the surrounding environment and internal computer systems to guide themselves along the road.

Preliminary Road Tests

The UK test drives come as part of a larger Department of Transport plan to help reduce congestion on British roads. To address safety concerns of these tests, there will be an emergency override system for the driver to take over. The driverless cars will stay within their designated lane, driving at a safe speed and distance from surrounding vehicles. Although car technology can and will get smarter in the years to come, at the moment these cars will only be semi-autonomous and will be used in light traffic such as rural or suburban settings rather than the motorways.

Today’s first batch of driverless cars has been designed by researchers at universities including Oxford and Stanford. In the USA, there have already been successful public road trials. Three states have already passed legislation to help regulate self-driving cars, putting a system in place for this new side of the auto industry. Oxford University’s team has been working on adapting a Nissan Leaf with lasers and sensors to create a more efficient, smarter vehicle.

Driverless Car by Google

Google’s Driverless Technology

In addition to public university research teams, another major proponent of driverless car technology is Google. Sergey Brin, one of Google’s co-founders, estimates that this technology will be available to consumers by the end of this decade. To this end, Google has converted a Toyota Prius into a fully capable self-driving automobile, which has already clocked over 300,000 miles on public roads in the United States. The Prius makes use of 64 lasers to monitor its surrounding environment, feeding this data back to a central artificial intelligence system. It takes readings by the millisecond, updating progress and analysing data continually. The car can be programmed to drive in different modes, ranging from safe and cautious to more aggressive. With the success of this initial Prius, Google’s fleet now also includes a Lexus RX450h.


Existing Use of Technology

Although we don’t have fully driverless cars yet, a number of automakers already use similar technology. If you take a look at the latest SUV reviews by Motoring, you’ll see features including intelligent cruise control and lane keep assist. Technologies like these already use sensors and cameras to help guide the driver and boost both safety and efficiency. Brands like Volvo, Audi, and Ford have expressed interest in taking this technology a step further and working on robotic cars, particularly as these first trials prove to be successful. As an article at points out, many average cars already have the technological basis to accommodate a driverless system, with a computerised drivetrain, satellite navigation and radar sensors.

It’s most likely that rather than self-driving cars appearing overnight, we’ll see a wider range of electronic sensors to help assist the driver with guided parking and other vehicle features. In time, this could lead to the development of a car that’s fully capable of regulating the driving experience on the motorway with little driver input.

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