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A driverless car was tested on members of the public for the first time yesterday.
The test in Milton Keynes involved a two-seater vehicle which travelled around a 1km loop on the pavements near the town’s train station.
The team running the test hope it will lead to a fleet of up to 40 of the driverless ‘pods’ being available to the public in the next year, and the Milton Keynes test was heralded as a “landmark step” towards eventually bringing self-driving cars to UK roads.
The driverless pod, which is adapted from a small Renault car, was developed by Oxbotica – an Oxford University research team who hope trials like this will help improve how the technology interacts with road-users as well as introduce it to the public.
The UK government is currently encouraging car manufacturers and technology firms to develop and test driverless car technology in order to build an industry capable of serving a potential worldwide market of £900 billion by the year 2025.
To that end, the government launched a consultation earlier this year to work on changes to motoring regulations and car insurance rules to pave the way for self-driving cars on UK roads.
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During the Milton Keynes test, members of the public along with local dignitaries were taking for a ride in the driverless car with a safety driver who was present to take over the vehicle in case of an emergency. The programme director, Neil Fulton said of the successful event: “This public demonstration represents a major milestone for autonomous vehicles in the UK and the culmination of an extensive project involving UK companies and experts.”
“Oxford University’s technology will go on to power automated vehicles around the world, and the project will now feed into a much wider programme of autonomous trials across the UK.
“Driverless vehicles are coming to Britain, and what we have demonstrated today is a huge step on that journey.”
The trial was the culmination of 18 months of planning, which included virtually mapping the town of Milton Keynes as well as extensive liaison with Milton Keynes Council to make sure the vehicles in question would conform to regulations and health and safety rules.
Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark said: “Today’s first public trials of driverless vehicles in our towns is a ground-breaking moment and further evidence that Britain is at the forefront of innovation.
“The global market for autonomous vehicles present huge opportunities for our automotive and technology firms.
“And the research that underpins the technology and software will have applications way beyond autonomous vehicles.”