Home Data & Expense Driverless cars to be tested in London ahead of launch this Christmas

Driverless cars to be tested in London ahead of launch this Christmas

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Driverless cars are to be tested on the streets of London this week as part of a plan to deploy the UK’s first completely autonomous fleet on British roads by Christmas.

A Government-backed consortium will deploy cars to map the streets of Hounslow in West London to teach them to understand road signs and lane markings following successful tests in Oxford.

The cars will be able to share data with each other, such as warnings about obstacles on the road, to improve how vehicles perform under different conditions on the road.

The consortium, led by Oxford University spinoff Oxbotica, aims to run a fleet of autonomous vehicles between Oxford and London in 2019 following tests in both cities.

The consortium, which also includes insurance provider AXA, UK registry domain Nominet and Telefonica, was awarded an £8.6 million grant from Innovate UK to run the trials.

Dr Graeme Smith, chief executive of Oxbotica, said: “These trials further demonstrate to the wider UK public that connected and autonomous vehicles will play an important role in the future of transport. This milestone shows the advanced state of our capabilities and firmly keeps us on the road to provide the technology needed to revolutionise road travel.”

The vehicles will be fitted with software from Oxbotica as well as radar and a variety of sensors, on board computers and cameras.

According to Oxbotica, the tests will be repeated several times on different dates so that cars can learn how the streets change depending on lighting conditions.

The breakthrough comes days after the Government announced plans for the first driverless transport services by 2021, including a driverless bus service crossing the Forth Bridge to Edinburgh and self-driving taxis in four London boroughs.

Oxbotica signed a deal with taxi company Addison Lee last month to launch a driverless taxi service in the capital by 2021 and will be part of the Government’s pilot scheme.

Both companies agreed to map over 250,000 miles of public roads in an attempt to refine the Artificial Intelligence used by the taxis to avoid and anticipate obstacles.

UK-based projects are racing to launch home-grown driverless car services in the UK ahead of Google’s Waymo project, which is estimated to be worth $175m (£136.4m) and Uber.

Uber rival Lyft bought a London-based technology startup to push ahead with driverless car plans last month.  The US company bought Blue Vision Labs, a London-based firm that specialises in mapping street layouts using car-mounted smartphones.

London is classed as one of the few “mega-cities” in Europe and has some of the most challenging driving conditions in the world, caused by a combination of its complex historic road layout, congestion and poor road surfaces.

Experts have warned that US driverless cars cannot operate on UK roads because they are unable to spot British vehicles like Routemaster buses and black cabs.

Other companies, such as Volvo, which said they would start testing self-driving cars in the capital have yet to do so.

Research claims three quarters of the public fear autonomous cars on UK roads, with 76pc saying lack of vehicle control is their biggest worry and 60pc afraid that self-driving vehicles could be hacked by criminals, ­according to MoneySuperMarket.

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