Driverless cars are launching in the UK this April
Honestly, it’s not an early April Fool’s Day joke – it’s for real. There are two driverless “pilot” projects launching this year in London, one in April and the other in the summer.
The MOVE_UK project kicks off in April and will focus on gathering data on how self-driving vehicles impact the roads around Greenwich. The GATEway project is slightly different. Launching in July – on the pavements of Greenwich, not the roads – it will monitor how the public reacts and try to assess our willingness to engage with autonomous vehicles.
The exact routes have not yet been finalised, but if you happen to be paying a visit to the O2 arena, the Cutty Sark or Greenwich market, keep an eye out for the driverless “pods”. In fact, you might have already seen them… their design will be based on the UltraPods being used at Heathrow, which have been shuttling more than a million passengers a year – for the last five years – between the business car park and Terminal 5.
Professor Nick Reed, Technical Director for GATEway says: “If the trials prove successful, we expect these iconic vehicles to become a familiar sight in many cities around the world.”
Both projects are important steps in the Government’s desire to make the UK a leading testing ground for autonomous technologies. The insight gained from these two projects will no doubt feed into the results of the other driverless trials taking place across the country in towns like Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes.
But it’s not just London that’s gearing up for a self-driving summer. In spite of earlier reports to the contrary, the Isle of Man still might open up its roads to testing driverless cars too.
Chief Minister for the island, Allan Bell, said: “No decision has been taken not to allow the testing of driverless cars. We believe this is an area of great opportunity for the Isle of Man. Our legislative and regulatory framework does not act as a barrier to the testing of automated vehicles on our roads. But more than that, our rich heritage in motoring innovation could give us an edge when compared to the rest of the world in this exciting area of technology development.”
How any desire to test autonomous technology would relate, or integrate, with the UK government’s code of practice for testing driverless vehicles on public roads remains to be seen. However, Phil Gawne, the Isle of Man’s minister for infrastructure, seems to be confident of making any necessary changes to the legal framework within a few months to allow testing to begin.
The desire might be there but as Ben Gardener, expert in autonomous vehicles at law firm Pinsent Masons, points out in a recent blog post, the time frame may not be realistic: “The Isle of Man seems pretty willing to push through legislative changes quickly and you can draw a comparison with the UK government which is committed to changing the law by summer 2017. To be honest, that appears to be a very ambitious target because the UK’s road traffic law is pretty wide ranging. It is probably going to take much longer than that.”
So there we are, driverless cars will be hitting the UK’s roads and the pavements in Greenwich this year and possibly the Isle of Man. Who knows, maybe the next TT on the island will be on a riderless bike…