Much is known about the development of self-driving cars, with some of the biggest tech firms in the world beginning to invest heavily in the technology. And yet, despite all the buzz surrounding driverless cars, we’ve never actually seen one in action here in the UK — until now.
Last week (Tuesday 11 October for people reading this in the future), the first driverless car to be tested in the UK took to the streets of Milton Keynes, sharing the road with everyday traffic, including buses, cyclists and pedestrians. The car hit speeds of (wait for it) 15mph, and managed to navigate a simple route without incident — suggesting, perhaps, that such technology does have a place in our towns and cities after all.
The vehicle in question is known as the LUTZ Pathfinder, a two-seater automated car built by Transport Systems Catapult, a small tech firm based in Milton Keynes. The Pathfinder travelled 1.25 miles in MK’s town centre, negotiating a route lined with pedestrians, cyclists and other obstacles. For precautionary measures, a driver was on board in case of emergencies, but the vehicle managed to complete the trip without the need for any intervention.
Using a special virtual map, the LUTZ Pathfinder was able to follow a route around Milton Keynes’ central train station, before travelling into the business district. The directions were pre-programmed before the vehicle set off, and the car was able to stick to the exact route thanks to GPS tracking and radar capabilities.
What’s exciting about this trial is that, although self-driving cars have been trialled in the UK before, they’ve always been partially controlled by human hands — whilst the LUTZ was able to go completely driverless.
But how does it work? We hear you ask. The LUTZ Pathfinder is able to negotiate traffic and avoid colliding with pedestrians thanks to some clever on-board computers, as well as several cameras and a lidar system, which uses invisible lasers to detect objects which might stray near the car.
Mathematicians and engineers at the Oxford Robotics Institute developed the software used aboard the LUTZ Pathfinder. The institute received a government grant to team up with Transport Systems Catapult, and together the two organisations have successfully pioneered the UK’s first fully driverless car.
While driverless cars aren’t expected to be on general sale in the UK for the next ten years or more, the government is keen to invest in the technology now so that it can be at the forefront of the industry when it finally begins to take off.
Greg Clark, the UK’s business secretary, said this of self-driving cars: “The global market for autonomous vehicles presents huge opportunities for our automotive and technology firms. The research that underpins the technology and software will have applications way beyond autonomous vehicles.”
Despite last week’s driverless car breakthrough, the UK has a long way to go until it can match the current technology being trialled in the US.
Several large tech firms in the US, including Google, have already successfully trialled driverless cars in a real-world setting, and continue to push the technology forward. In fact, global transportation operator, Uber, has recently launched a fleet of self-driving Ford Fusions on to the streets of Pittsburgh as part of its regular taxi service — racing miles ahead of its competitors.
It’s important to remember, though, that self-driving car technology is far from perfect. Earlier this year, a driverless Tesla car was involved in a fatal collision, and just last month a Google self-driving car ran a red light and collided with another vehicle — proving that the technology is still some way from becoming part of the mainstream.
And yet, with experts predicting that the world’s driverless car market could be worth an estimated £900 billion, we don’t think it will be long until safe and fully self-driving cars become a regular fixture on Britain’s roads.
Until that day comes, however, it’s important to continue taking good care of your current car — and you can do just that with Prestone. Our high quality products are guaranteed to work in even the toughest conditions, so you can keep your driver operated car running long after driverless ones have arrived.
For more information, visit the Prestone website.
Image credits: Flickr Creative Commons