RAC Cars News


Autonomous Driving Reaches UK Roads

By raccars Published

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After years spent enmeshed in the complexities of the regulations surrounding autonomous driving, the government has announced that a major trial of driverless cars is to take place in the UK next year. The scheme begins in January 2015 and is set to last 18-36 months.

The government has invited cities in the UK to bid for a £10 million contract competition, to find the correct location for the experiment to be held and is encouraging research organisations and businesses to work with local authorities which intend to join in the bidding process. In the meantime, ministers will be reviewing the existing road regulations governing the use of driverless cars on public roads, both for fully autonomous vehicles and those which can be controlled by a qualified driver.

Similar trials are already being conducted in Japan, Sweden and the USA, where the technology is already advancing to a higher stage. 800,000 driverless miles have been recorded on Californian roads, where autonomous driving has been made legal. Volvo is trialling its autonomous driving system in its home country of Sweden and other manufacturers, including VW, Nissan and Ford, are expected to have similar technology ready for testing very soon. Internet giant, Google, has also ventured into the auto industry, creating its own self-driving prototype car, with development due to completed by 2015.

Different versions of the same basic system are used by most of the manufacturers who are working on autonomous driving, involving a series of lasers and radars scanning the roads, to detect the landscape and surrounding objects. Added to orientation sensors and GPS, they create a 360 degree vision of the car's vicinity which is sent to a processor within the vehicle, so it can work out when to brake, steer and accelerate. Lower scale versions of this technology can already be found on production cars, directing adaptive cruise control, automated parking systems and automatic braking, but fully driverless cars are a much more complex proposition, provoking a number of questions about legislation and insurance.

Insurance for autonomous vehicles is likely to be very high initially until providers feel more comfortable with the risk factors involved, but the auto industry does not yet seem to have been able to answer questions about liability, in the event of any failures or accidents. Nonetheless, it seems driverless cars are here to stay and, one way or another, the bodies that create road laws will have to devise ways to accommodate them.

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