The Driverless Car - Get Connected
News came in last week about an important development for drivers across the UK – driverless car trials have begun in London. We’ve probably all heard by now of Google’s driverless cars - the Google Self-Driving Car is a project that involves developing software called Google Chauffeur. A team of 15 engineers led by Sebastian Thrun, former director of Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google Street View, created a robotic vehicle called Stanley which won the 2005 DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) Grand Challenge. Since that date, legislation has swiftly been passed in four states and Washington DC which allows driverless cards. It really seems that with Google leading the way, others are rapidly following and this new technology has developed in leaps and bounds in recent years. Google’s new prototype driverless car has neither pedals nor steering wheel and there are plans to test it on the roads of the San Francisco Bay this year.
We’re all aware that new technology in the US swiftly crosses the Atlantic to be adopted here in the UK and driverless cars are no exception. Vince Cable (Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and MP for Twickenham) and other ministers recently hosted a showcase of some of these vehicles in Greenwich, promoting the UK’s position at the “forefront of innovation” in rapidly advancing technology. The government has promised to review road regulations by 2017 to allow for the driverless car phenomenon.
However, it’s not all pedal to the metal with the driverless car issue. Some Greenwich locals voiced their concerns about the safety of this new development in driving, while others took a more progressive attitude. 82 year old Brenda Stevenson described the new technology as “absolutely marvellous” and envisages that it will help the elderly and disabled to get around and visit friends. She went on to say that “We’ve got to move with the times – you can’t stand back and think everything is going to be the same forever”. This forward thinking attitude is what will drive the success of autonomous vehicles – the world is changing and we will change with it.
The UK government is funding driverless car projects to the tune of £19 million and trials will take place in Greenwich, Milton Keynes, Coventry and Bristol – the industry is predicted to be worth a massive £900 billion by 2025. Car manufacturers are all scrambling to join the bandwagon, with Daimler presenting the F015 Mercedes-Benz concept at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, BAE Systems’ Wildcat being featured on Top Gear and the Meridian Shuttle (an autonomous bus) being tested as an alternative public transport vehicle in Greenwich.
Minister for Transport, Claire Perry, disclosed that the trials are “about what works, how people react to them, and what is the opportunity for British manufacturing”. A review of the Highway Code is underway as changes may need to be made to the licensing framework to allow ownership of use of autonomous vehicles by those who don’t hold a driving licence.
Autonomous (or self-driving) vehicles are coming and it’s sure to change our way of life, including how we drive, how we use public transport and how we live.