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Self-Driving Cars to Hit UK Roads

technology

Google's most anticipated new creation will cross the pond in 2015

Janet Burns
  • 1 august 2014

Settling an age-old argument, driverless cars will be navigating British streets with the steering wheel on neither side come January. Vehicles such as Google’s revolutionary self-driving car, previously restricted to private British roads, have been approved for public road testing by UK lawmakers.

Business secretary Vince Cable has announced that, in addition to joining a number of US states in allowing them public road usage, ministers have ordered a review of UK road regulations to accommodate the vehicles prior to their 2015 arrival. He praised the decision and the opportunity it provides for Britons:

The excellence of our scientists and engineers has established the UK as pioneers in the development of driverless vehicles through pilot projects. Today’s announcement will see driverless cars take to our streets in less than six months, putting us at the forefront of this transformational technology and opening up new opportunities for our economy and society.

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Cable also said a £10m fund will be made available for self-driving car research in the UK, funded jointly by the Departments for Business, Innovation and Skills, and Transport. Cities are invited to compete to be one of three selected as sites for funded testing, which will include fully autonomous cars and ones containing a driver who could, if needed, take control at any time.

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Google demonstrated its prototype driverless car in late May, having built 100 of the models for testing. Bereft of steering wheels and pedals, the vehicles can currently hold two passengers each, contain a battery-powered motor and an emergency stop button, and have a top speed of 25 miles per hour. Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car project, explained alongside its debut his belief that the prototype is “an important step toward improving road safety and transforming mobility for millions of people.”

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While Google experimented for years with transforming regular cars into self-driving ones, allowing humans to take over in case of emergency, project engineers finally decided to remove steering wheels and pedals entirely, and thus room for human error; as Urmson told the NY Times, “[w]e saw stuff that made us a little nervous.”

And road statistics, as well as this Dutch insurance add, may suggest that this was a good idea.

[h/t] The Drum

Images: Google, LA Times

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