The government is trying to persuade Google to bring its autonomous vehicles to London ─ and has been for some time.
London deputy mayor for transport Isabel Dedring said that “at least half a dozen” talks between transport chiefs and Google have gone on over the last three years, the most recent of which took place within the last three weeks.
Dedring said: “It’s going to have to work in big cities, so why don’t we start trialling it now? Google have said they are focused on the US, but they’re starting to think about going elsewhere, so we’re in active discussions.”
“We met them a few weeks ago to see whether they would do trials here. It is still very early days, but we would be keen for trials to happen in London whenever Google are ready to move them into other countries,” she added.
Google self-driving cars rely on a mixture of software, sensors, GPS data, cameras and other gadgets to get them from A to B without input from the driver. More than 1.4 million miles of testing in the US has been completed since the US government gave testing the go-ahead.
Dedring admitted she is a sceptic ─ “If you’ve got a traffic jam full of driverless cars, that is not better than a traffic jam full of drivers,” she stated ─ but admitted there are cost benefits, including the ability to make tunnels much smaller, which would save on construction costs.
The UK government has expressed an interest in making the UK a leader in self-driving vehicles, with trials set to take place across the UK, including in Bristol and Milton Keynes. London will also see autonomous shuttle pods at Heathrow airport.
A total of £20million is to be invested in eight different driverless car projects in the UK. Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said autonomous vehicles “would profoundly change the way we travel within years”.
Google would certainly benefit from testing its technologies away from California, partly because our weather conditions would be a much greater challenge, but also because there is a lot of work to be done in persuading drivers that autonomous vehicles are the future.
It has been far from plain sailing for Google. Between September 2014 and November 2015, there were 272 failures among its 53-car fleet that required a driver to take control, 13 of which would have otherwise resulted in a crash. 69 instances made the driver feel like it was necessary to intervene.
Autonomous technologies already exist in a number of vehicles and have done for a few years, but there is a big difference between the likes of adaptive cruise control and full-blown autonomy. Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn believes it will be 2020 at the earliest for the latter.
There are many legislative, technological and behavioural hoops to jump through before a car is capable of driving you to work without you touching the steering wheel, but 2016 onwards is the year you may start to see just how feasible they really are in old Blighty.