For the first time in the UK, a driverless car has been tested among members of the public in Milton Keynes.
Driverless cars have been introduced on Britain’s roads, mixing with pedestrians in trials to test the public’s reaction to the vehicles.
The two-seater electric vehicle “pods”, similar to Smart cars, travelled in a 1km (0.6-mile) loop on the pavements around the town’s railway station.
The vehicles have steering wheels to enable humans to take over control. However the pods were driven entirely by computers at speeds of 15mph as they used cameras and laser radar to sense the surroundings.
The team behind it call the test “a landmark step” towards bringing self-driving vehicles to the roads of the UK, hoping that a fleet of 40 of the pods will be available next year.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“Driverless vehicles are coming to Britain, and what we have demonstrated today is a huge step on that journey.”
The UK government launched a consultation earlier this year, on changes to insurance rules and motoring regulations to allow driverless cars to be used by 2020. The government said it would allow such vehicles to be tested on the motorway from next year.
Mr Fulton said that public response to the vehicles, which will be on show for three days, had been “overwhelmingly positive.”
(c) Fabio De Paola/PA
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.”
Trials are also being carried out in Bristol and London, both likely to conduct public trials in the coming months.
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