Around a hundred Londoners will travel in Blighty’s first public driverless cars over the next few weeks, it was announced this morning.
The trials, which will take place over a largely pedestrianised area around London’s O2 Arena in Greenwich, are being run by the UK’s privatised Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) and electric car firm Oxbotica.
Dr Graeme Smith, chief executive of Oxbotica, which is developing the electric vehicles, told the Press Association: “This needs to be like any other form of transportation. It shouldn’t be a white-knuckle ride for passengers. We know we’ve got the software right when the journeys are unremarkable.”
Five cameras and three lasers will help the robo-motor navigate at up to 10mph along a riverside path used by pedestrians and cyclists.
The self driving car will be able to “see” up to 100m in front of itself and is capable of stopping gently before it meets an obstruction – as well as carrying out emergency stops if somebody steps out in front of it.
TRL and Oxbotica hope that the first fare-paying passengers will be able to use the cars by 2019. The proof-of-concept tests are ideally situated, as the Thames riverside paths being used by the cars are generally only used by dog walkers, joggers, and, in high summer, tourists, but it is not immediately obvious what the revenue-earning opportunities would be once the novelty value passes. The majority of the western side of the Greenwich peninsula is derelict industrial land and stalled building sites.
Other robotic trials around the Greenwich peninsula include food-delivery ground drones made by Starship Technologies, which resemble a motorised coolbox on wheels. ®
Your correspondent once went for a romantic evening stroll down those very same paths, in blissful ignorance of the landscape, thinking it'd be a nice little walk a mile or so upriver, admiring the City of London across the water, before looping back down into historic maritime Greenwich.
Two hours later, in increasingly dark and spooky conditions with the occasional no-notice speeding cyclist for the added element of terror, we found the first turning off the path. This was somewhere near the Tate and Lyle refinery and just beyond a cement factory. We then found ourselves more or less on top of the southern portal of the Blackwall Tunnel. At that point a car, driverless or otherwise, would have been very welcome.
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