How Close is the UK to Achieving Self-Driving Cars?

20th January, 2019 in Car Topics

The UK government has already set out legislation in preparation for the advent of self-driving vehicles.  A Code of Practice has been drawn up for the testing and trials of these vehicles while there are also proposals about how car insurance would work.  Their main reason for laying the groundwork early is the hope that such vehicles will be available commercially by 2021. This would have an economic benefit for the country with the industry worth an estimated £28 billion as well as the creation of jobs.  

It’s very difficult to know with any certainty how far along the plans for self-driving vehicles have been successful. Many of the trials and testing have been conducted by large car manufacturers and for obvious reasons, these tend to be clouded in total secrecy.  

Carrying out tests on roads is completely different to the same testing on tracks since the urban landscape has many challenges that don’t exist on a track.  One example of an unseen difficulty was the trees lining many British streets. Testers found that when the trees lost their foliage in autumn, a cloud of leaves carried by the wind was interpreted by the self-driving vehicle as a moving object.  

Without the American road grid system, every British city has different challenges to overcome.  Two of the cities closely linked to the real-road trials of self-driving vehicles have been Milton Keynes and Coventry.  

Coventry, with its dense inner-city foot traffic and large university population, has more pedestrians than other British cities who would often dart in front of vehicles.  For that reason, self-driving vehicles had to be programmed to understand more about the trajectory of pedestrians crossing the road.

In Milton Keynes, however, the issue has been the small incline at road intersections.  Despite the vehicle’s combination of sensors, this has been interpreted by the pods as an obstacle which can’t be passed.  

Starting in October 2016, small pods have been used around central Milton Keynes to ferry passengers around the shopping centre.  These has been the longest-running self-driving trial in the UK and is called Autodrive. It is the result of a collaboration between Ford, Tata Motors and Jaguar Landrover. Their Tata pod vehicles have a capacity of 4 passengers and also have a human driver.  Journeys tend to last around 10 minutes and reach maximum speeds of 25mph.

The same collaborative project is also investigating the possibilities of connecting vehicles using wireless technology.  This would alert the vehicle and human driver of upcoming obstacles and conditions through an alarm and/or visual signal.

There’s the question about how much such vehicles would cost to purchase.  Conventional vehicles are easily within the reach of most consumers. Even if people have financial problems, private lenders UK for personal loans are able to offer a helping hand.     

Despite the money invested in self-driving technology, it’s unclear whether the cash poured into these projects has paid off.  One thing that it perhaps overlooks is the fact that many people simply enjoy driving.

author avatar Written by Paul-Hadley Visit the author's website