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The Road To Autonomous Cars

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The Road To Autonomous Cars

Geoff Maxted
December 9, 2013

Autonomous Cars Autonomous Cars
I once went to Milton Keynes. The purpose was to support a friend’s photography exhibition. I have no plans to go there again - ever - unless it truly does come to pass that by 2017 there will be one hundred ‘driverless’ cars that will run on pathways using sensors to avoid collisions and pedestrians.

Personally, I am not interested in owning such a car but I am keen to see how the technology works in a real world that includes snaggle-toothed miscreant youths who see things like this as a challenge and dozy people who spend their lives creeping about oblivious to anything and everything.

Oxford University’s Mobile Robotics Group is currently the UK centre for the technology and last July plans were announced by the Group’s researchers to test cars with Nissan on UK roads. Now though our forward-thinking government has offered £10 million of your money as a prize for a town or city to develop itself as a testing ground for driverless cars, as it seeks to make the UK a world leader for the technology.

This follows Chancellor Osborne’s pledge last week that the government will ‘launch a review’ to ensure that legislation is there to, in his words, “demonstrate to the world’s car companies” that the UK is “the right place” to develop driverless cars.

Whilst they are talking about it Google will continue to add to the half a million miles worth of road testing it has already done as simultaneously three U.S. states are already passing laws to allow such vehicles. Most towns or cities in the UK would love to be given ten million smackers at any time but can anyone really see them spending this windfall on trying to convert our creaking urban road infrastructure and ancient high streets into any sort of meaningful system They can’t even get it right for cyclists.

Many of our new cars already embrace some of this new technology as aids to safety - auto braking and lane control for example - and this, by and large, is a good thing but can anyone really see it as a practical spend when we are in such a parlous state anyway?

The layout of places like Milton Keynes and some other New Towns may well lend themselves to autonomous cars. Most of our towns and cities don’t. The Oxford boffins are doing great work but other countries are already ahead of us with this sort of urban experimentation and frankly, a measly ten million quid is not going to put us at the cutting edge. There are better ways to spend the money right now.

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