Don’t freak out if you spot vehicles driving around by themselves on UK streets. The Department for Transport has granted Oxford University researchers the chance to test driverless cars in the UK as part of a £28 billion government road strategy set to be unveiled in parliament today.
Driverless Nissans have already been pootling around on private roads. Now, however, the cars will get their first taste of genuine traffic conditions on quiet rural and suburban roads from September 2013.
Oxford University scientists will be using an adapted Nissan Leaf for the task. It features cameras, radar, laser sensors and some clever computer wizardry to ensure the autonomous car can follow a pre-determined route without any input from a driver (or is that passenger?). A back-up driver will be present in case something goes awry.
Other facets of the government’s road strategy, which marks the biggest investment in UK roads since the 1970s, includes the re-evaluation of a tunnel near Stonehenge, £500 million being spent on electric vehicles and the widening and resurfacing of major roads including the M4 between London and Reading to ease congestion.
The government is attempting to make the six-year funding project legally binding so that the work carries on even if another party comes into power.
“For far too long, I think we need to accept, roads policy and investment have been neglected, transport minister Stephan Hammond said. “And successive governments have failed to find an enduring and politically credible answer to the problems that affect our road network.”
“It is a simple fact that since 1990, France has built 2,700 miles of new motorway – more than the entire UK motorway network. We have built just 46, between 2001 and 2009. And between 1990 and 2001, annual spending on trunk road schemes in England fell by more than 80% in real terms,” he added.
Although driverless cars are a new sight to UK motorists, Google has already racked up more than 300,000 miles while testing its fleet of autonomous Toyota Prius cars in the US. Audi has also demonstrated a highly modified TT was able to drive the mighty Pikes Peak hill climb with no driver input.
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