Self-driving cars will be on UK motorways in 2019

If the prospect of self-driving cars becoming a real thing makes you uncomfortable, you may want to avoid the M40 in 2019. 

Oxbotica, the Oxford-based autonomous car company is working on a fleet of self-driving cars that are able “to operate on public roads, with complete autonomy, within the next two and half years”, with a plan to do a demonstration route in 2019.

Based out of the RACE test centre in Oxfordshire, Oxbotica is testing the fleet of cars on a site with over 10 kilometers of roads, complete with traffic lights, junctions, roundabouts and even pedestrian crossings. 

Oxbotica’s cars work using multiple cameras, so they’re able to ‘see’ where they are on the road, and lasers so that they can ‘sense’ what’s in their immediate surroundings. They will be tested in all weather conditions, interacting with pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles.

On the road

Once the initial testing is complete, the cars will run a route between London and Oxford to demonstrate the viability of the technology. 

Don’t worry if this feels a little unsafe – the initial runs will have an engineer on board to take over if the car doesn’t operate the way it should. 

This is reassuring, especially in light of the recent accident on the roads of Arizona with Uber’s self-driving car. Even if the outcome of that accident showed that it was a human not yielding that caused the accident, it still highlights the question of whether these cars are ready to be on the road.

In principle, the idea of a driverless car makes sense. Driving is all about rules, and computers are good at rules. The problem comes when you put humans into the equation, who don’t always follow those rules. Only once the onboard computers gets some form of judgement so they can second-guess other drivers will self-driving cars really be safe.

These developments will only come with time and money, and the Government is certainly putting its money where its mouth is with its attempts to become a world leader in this field, report CNET The Government's Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles has announced £13 million in funding, with £8 million going to the DRIVEN program, helmed by Oxbotica.  

What's really exciting is that the developments at RACE are part of a much wider initiative working on “Cutting edge artificial intelligence and robotics systems that will operate in extreme and hazardous environments” which is receiving a £270m Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund in the 2017 spring Budget. 

Andrew London

Andrew London is a writer at Velocity Partners. Prior to Velocity Partners, he was a staff writer at Future plc.