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CONFIRMED: Driverless cars to hit actual British roads by end of year

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Driverless cars will hit the streets of Britain by the end of this year, the government has confirmed.

In a briefing document titled Action for Roads, the Department for Transport confirmed that Oxford University boffins will start trials of autonomous cars later this year.

The scheme to take the human element out of motoring is part of a £28bn investment in British roads aimed at reducing congestion.

The DfT said:

Researchers at Oxford University are currently working with Nissan to... create semi-autonomous cars. These vehicles will have a driver present but are capable of driving fully independently, using knowledge of the environment in which they are driving. A groundbreaking trial of these vehicles on the road is expected to start later this year.

Fully autonomous cars remain a further step, and for the time being drivers will have the option (and responsibility) of taking control of the vehicle themselves. Vehicle manufacturers and their systems suppliers continue to explore the opportunities for full autonomy. Further progress will depend foremost on ensuring public safety and on updating the law to take account of the new technology.

The government expects the demand for driverless or semi-autonomous cars to increase as data processors "decrease in cost and increase in power".

Computer-aided vehicles will become commonplace in Britain and across the world, apparatchiks believe.

The DfT added:

By 2040, experts expect a world of connected vehicles and road users, where ‘semi-autonomous’ and ‘autonomous’ control of vehicles will be part of life.

Vehicles will communicate not only with the road infrastructure, but increasingly with each other. Innovative ways to make vehicles cooperate with one another, such as the "platooning" approach for heavy vehicles on strategic roads, have the potential to make our roads work better for everyone.

When the test begins, the cars will drive on quiet roads and will not be fully autonomous, meaning a human can step in if it looks as if the robot driver's going to mow down pedestrians.

Prof Paul Newman, who leads the Oxford University team working on the autonomous car, told the BBC: "It's a great area to be working in because it's IT and computers and that's what changes things. The British government sees that engineering is important."

Experts previously told El Reg that driverless cars will most likely be configured to perform boring, tricky tasks like parking way before they are let loose on the open highway.

Google is leading the development of driverless cars and has promised to put them on the roads within five years. ®

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