Credit: Google

Driverless cars could be on Britain's streets by January

Vince Cable wants the UK to lead the world in autonomous vehicles, but we need to get moving if we want to overtake the US. Better buckle up...

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 11 Feb 2015

In a move that will delight Knightrider fans everywhere, the government has announced that driverless cars will be permitted on British roads from January. ‘Today’s announcement will see driverless cars take to our streets in less than six months,’ business secretary Vince Cable said at the Mira test centre in Nuneaton on Wednesday.

Cable also unveiled a £10m competition that will allow three cities to host trials of the snazzy futuristic technology in 2015, as part of a strategy to increase Britain’s share of the $70bn (£40bn) robotics market.

‘We are providing the right environment to give businesses the confidence to invest and create high-skilled jobs,’ Cable said.

If you’re expecting Norwich or Wolverhampton to be the first place to go all Minority Report, though, you might have to think again. Unsurprisingly, the US is still leading the way. California, Nevada and Florida all passed legislation paving the way for autonomous vehicles back in 2012 and Google’s famed Self-Driving Cars (capital letters included) have already clocked up 300,000 miles on sun-drenched (empty) SoCal highways.

Google’s small-scale (for now) intrusion into this most blue chip of territories could be a sign of things to come. Indeed, only last week Chinese search engine rival Baidu announced its intention to develop a driverless car. The automotive giants aren’t sitting idly by while they drift into obsolescence either. Nissan, for instance, has pledged to produce a self-driving car by 2020, and Volvo is working with the Swedish city of Gothenburg on a trial due to start in 2017.   

The self-driving car certainly appears to be on the horizon, then. But before you start planning what you’re going to read while your shuttle pod rushes you to work in the morning (MT, obviously), you might want to consider it could be a long time before entirely driverless cars become commonplace.

Not only are they likely to be very expensive – Google’s car has over $160,000 worth of gadgetry inside - but they could also encounter significant legal and insurance speedbumps. What happens when a driverless car is involved in a crash? Whose fault will it be if someone gets hurt?

In a recent report, Lloyd’s of London wrote ‘there could be a need for a lengthy and complex reassessment’ of the legal frameworks, which might prove to be an understatement if you listen to the FBI’s concerns of driverless cars being used as lethal weapons.

Whether today’s announcement proves to be much ado about nothing or another step closer to our inevitable subjugation by a master race of intelligent robots remains to be seen, but few of us would complain if we had a little less stress behind the wheel. Just don’t let them near the nuclear weapons. We’ve seen how that movie ends.

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