Technology

Driverless car tested in public in UK

Lutz Pathfinder pod Image copyright Lutz Pathfinder Project
Image caption The pods will eventually be able to be hailed by members of the public

A driverless car has been tested among members of the public for the first time in the UK, in Milton Keynes.

The two-seater electric vehicle travelled in a 1km (0.6-mile) loop on the pavements around the town's railway station.

The team behind it hopes a fleet of 40 of the pods will be available to the public next year.

It called the test "a landmark step" towards bringing self-driving vehicles to the roads of the UK.

Local dignitaries and members of the press sat alongside a safety driver, who was there to take the car out of autonomous mode in the case of an emergency.

Programme director Neil Fulton said: "This public demonstration represents a major milestone for autonomous vehicles in the UK and the culmination of an extensive project involving UK companies and experts.

Image copyright Lutz Pathfinder Project
Image caption The response to the vehicle was "overwhelmingly positive" said the team behind it

The autonomy software running the vehicle, called Selenium, was developed by Oxford University's Oxford Robotics Institute and integrated by Oxford University spinout company Oxbotica.

Selenium uses data from cameras and LIDAR systems to navigate its way around the environment.

"Oxford University's technology will go on to power automated vehicles around the world, and the project will now feed into a much wider programme of autonomous trials across the UK," said Mr Fulton.

"Driverless vehicles are coming to Britain, and what we have demonstrated today is a huge step on that journey."

Virtual mapping

The UK government is keen to lead the way on the development of driverless car technology and earlier this year launched a consultation on changes to insurance rules and motoring regulations to allow driverless cars to be used by 2020.

It said it would allow such vehicles to be tested on motorways from next year.

The trial in Milton Keynes is the culmination of 18 months planning, which required a virtual mapping of the town along with extensive work with Milton Keynes Council to ensure the vehicles would be safe, conform to regulations and be accepted by the public.

Mr Fulton said that public response to the vehicles, which will be on show for three days, had been "overwhelmingly positive."

'Huge opportunities'

Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark said: "Today's first public trials of driverless vehicles in our towns is a ground-breaking moment and further evidence that Britain is at the forefront of innovation.

"The global market for autonomous vehicles present huge opportunities for our automotive and technology firms.

"And the research that underpins the technology and software will have applications way beyond autonomous vehicles."

There are other driverless car trials being carried out, in Bristol and London. Both are likely to conduct public trials in coming months.

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