Autonomous cars will start testing on public roads in the UK by the end of 2013 as part of a government plan to reduce traffic congestion in Britain.
Planned as part of a £28 billion ($46.4 billion) investment by the Department for Transport into congestion reduction, the BBC says the government's own report into autonomous cars concluded that “they maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front at a set speed and without deviating from their lane”.
While testing of autonomous cars on public roads is not new to the US thanks to Google’s fleet of self-driving Toyota Prius or other parts of Europe with Volvo’s SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project, UK trials have only ever occurred on private land.
Relying on knowledge of its own environment and surroundings provided via sensors and cameras, the autonomous or ‘driverless’ cars will still be required to have a human driver behind the wheel as a safety precaution.
To be tested by a team from Oxford University that has been developing autonomous car technology on the grounds of Oxford Science Park, the cars will be restricted to travelling on lightly used rural and suburban roads in a "semi-autonomous" mode that allows human passengers to intervene.
The Oxford University researchers’ team leader, Professor Paul Newman, told the BBC he was excited that the British government could see that engineering was important.
"It's a great area to be working in because it's IT and computers and that's what changes things,” Newman said.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin said autonomous vehicle technology would be commercially available within the decade, saying he believed the self-driving car would "dramatically improve the quality of life for everyone".
Though early days for the cars in the UK, the US states of Nevada, Florida and California have already passed laws to authorise the use of autonomous cars on public roads.