UK government unleashes driverless cars on public roads

Nissan Leaf
The UK's first robocar is based on the all-electric Nissan Leaf

The UK government is set to announce plans to allow testing of driverless cars. The first robocars will be unleashed onto public roads later this year.

Researchers at Oxford University will work in conjunction with Japanese car maker Nissan on the project and the collaboration has already been testing a driverless Nissan Leaf on private roads.

The move is part of the Department of Transports new £28 billion road investment and strategy scheme, announced today.

Previously, autonomous cars have been prohibited from operating on public roads, but the new measures allow for testing on lightly used rural and suburban roads. However, a back-up human driver must be on board and behind the controls at all times.

Google's at it, too

Overall, it looks like a similar scenario to that which has applied to testing of Google's autonomous car in the US.

But the big difference between Google's robocar and this UK-based initiative is cost. Google's autonomous cars are thought to cost roughly £100,000, half of which goes on a high-end lalser range finder.

Professor Newman who leads the Oxford team claims the its prototype system costs just £5,000. The ambition is to eventually whittle that down to just £100, though initial production versions would probably be more costly.

Whatever, if the numbers are anything like that, the prospect of mainstream autonomous cars will be very real.

Welcoming our new autonomous overlords...

Here on TechRadar, we're very much pro autonomous cars. There's a tabloid tendency to fear the arrival of this technology. There's little doubt the outcry should a robot car cause an accident will be deafening.

But the real question isn't whether the technology will be infallible. It won't be. But how many lives will it save on balance?

Very roughly, 2,000 people die on UK roads each year. If all cars were autonomous, it's very, very likely that number would be reduced dramatically.

So the choice is, what do you prefer? Thousands killed on roads by human drivers? Or a small handful killed by robocars?


Technology and cars. Increasingly the twain shall meet. Which is handy, because Jeremy (Twitter) is addicted to both. Long-time tech journalist, former editor of iCar magazine and incumbent car guru for T3 magazine, Jeremy reckons in-car technology is about to go thermonuclear. No, not exploding cars. That would be silly. And dangerous. But rather an explosive period of unprecedented innovation. Enjoy the ride.