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The future of driverless cars in the UK: A roadmap

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In yesterday’s Spring Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a £270m investment fund for ‘disruptive technologies’ including driverless cars.

This is in line with the government’s Modern Transport Bill, which aims to ensure autonomous vehicles (AV’s) are on Britain’s roads within four years. They are already being piloted in London, Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) predicts driverless cars will add £51bn to the UK economy by 2030 if Britain is to dominate the technology.

Oxford’s AI firm Oxbotica gets £8.6m to lead driverless car consortium

We take a look at the roadmap for the progression of driverless cars in the UK.

Assisted driving

Operates at present

Cars are already fitted with assistance systems, from autonomous emergency braking (AEB) which makes vehicles brake in advance of crashing; to lane departure technology, which ensures motorists remain safely in their lanes. These systems use cameras and radars help monitor hazards.

Some cars, such as the Volvo 590, have semi-autonomous driving systems for speeds of below 30mph, but drivers are required to keep their hands on the steering wheel.

‘Hands off’ self-driving

On the roads by 2018

By 2018, it’s expected cars will be smarter with a greater ability to steer, accelerate and brake. Although drivers must remain alert, they will be able to remove their hands from the wheel for up to three minutes at a time.

More advanced assistance systems will exist for the driver when they are in control, including real-time data-driven navigation.

Automated driving and connected cars

On the roads by 2021

By 2021, it’s thought substantial steps will have been made towards full autonomy. Whole sections of the motorway will permit cars to take complete control, allowing drivers to carry out other tasks, like reading a book.

Sensors, radars, cameras and lasers will enable the vehicle to build a picture of the surrounding road environment.

Fully autonomous vehicles

On the roads by 2025

Experts forecast that, in less than ten years, cars will be able to fully drive themselves from door to door with no need for the driver to touch the steering wheel.

Cars will independently navigate non-motorway roads, traffic lights, junctions and roundabouts. Vehicles will also be connected and able to communicate with one another.

The UK as a market leader?

In order for the UK to be a world-leader in autonomous vehicles, companies must work hard to innovate and disrupt the existing motor industry.

While the UK Department of Transport has amended the Highway Code to regulate the incoming self-driving vehicles, it has done so in a way to facilitate research and development in this area. According to the SMMT, the UK may be in an even stronger position to lead the industry post-Brexit as it will be unfettered by European Red Tape.

Already, Tesla, Uber, Google, Toyota, Ford, BMW, Volvo and others are making substantial progressions towards achieving fully automated and connected driving systems. The UK’s place in this picture is yet to be fully determined but announcements such as Hammond’s today help the future look bright (…and driverless).

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