The latest revolution in motoring is the autonomous, or driverless, car – a concept which may scare a few drivers, but definitely appeals to others. Uber even rolled out their own fleet of driverless cars for tests, though a horrific pedestrian fatality in Arizona – the first of its kind – forced them to end the tests abruptly. Nevertheless, the idea of having a car that drives itself – leaving you time to do other things – may still float your boat. With that in mind, one question still remains. When will driverless cars become available in the UK?
Despite the first pedestrian fatality in the US, tests on self-driving cars are continuing on roads in the UK, courtesy of Jaguar Land Rover. JLR, which is the country’s biggest carmaker, has been experimenting with autonomous cars in the Midlands on various roads and is set to demonstrate more of the cars’ features, including an emergency braking warning system, on urban streets this week. However, Government-backed trials, introduced by Chancellor Philip Hammond and roads minister Jesse Norman, are due to end on Friday due to widespread concerns for road safety and cybersecurity. They involved small autonomous vehicles buzzing round south London.
Various commentators have come out to say that we’re unlikely to see self-driving cars being sold for a long time now that a pedestrian fatality has occurred. Noel Sharkey, emeritus professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Sheffield, said: ‘Autonomous vehicles present us with a great future opportunity to make our roads safer. ‘But the technology is just not ready yet and needs to mature before it goes on the road. Too many mistakes and the public may turn its back on the technology.’ In addition, less than half the people who have tested driverless pods in Greenwich during a three-year Gateway study have given positive feedback in their experience.
Greenwich is still expected to introduce Ford and Jaguar Land Rover autonomous cars to its streets in the next phase of testing. So what does this mean for potential customers? Well, it doesn’t seem like driverless cars will be on sale for quite a long time due to these setbacks and the lack of public confidence in the cars, which will put companies off investing in producing them on a large scale. However, Ford and Jaguar Land Rover seem to be keen to impress with their test versions of the cars so don’t count them out too soon – they could be here in the next few years. If you want to feel the buzz of an automated vehicle, though, you’d better get a job at Gatwick Airport. Bosses there have announced that autonomous vehicles will be used to shuttle staff across the airfield, which they think may lead to ‘an Uber-like service’ for employees.