If you were in Milton Keynes recently, you may have witnessed a most unusual event.
A driverless car was tested for the first time - moving the latest development in self-driving technology up a gear.
The two-seater vehicle – named a LUTZ Pathfinder – travelled 1.25 miles (2km) through pedestrianised areas of the town, reaching speeds of up to 15mph while having to cope with the normal flow of people and cyclists for the first time. Thankfully the emergency driver on board didn’t require be deployed and no incidents were recorded.
The cars, built by Transport Systems Catapult (TSC), used virtual maps of the area to navigate around the train station and business district.
Like most good things however they are worth the wait as driverless cars are not expected to be in use in the UK for about 10 years. Meanwhile the government is aiming to ensure Britain is out in front when it comes to developing driverless technology.
Business secretary, Greg Clark, commented: “The global market for autonomous vehicles presents huge opportunities for our automotive and technology firms.
“The research that underpins the technology and software will have applications way beyond autonomous vehicles.”
How does it work you may wonder. Well, an on-board computer on board the vehicle senses the surrounding environment with cameras and lidar, a similar system to radar that uses light from a laser, to avoid accidents.
The test was also designed to gauge the public reaction to the technology and begin work on the regulatory architecture that will govern autonomous vehicles.
“Driverless vehicles are coming to Britain and what we have demonstrated today is a huge step on that journey,” said Neil Fulton, the TSC programme director.
He said successful tests in Milton Keynes would pave the way for further research and trials participated in by UK universities and small businesses.
The software in charge of the vehicle, Selenium, was developed by scientists, mathematicians and engineers from the Oxford Robotics Institute, through a company called Oxbotica.
In the budget in March, the then chancellor George Osborne said self-driving cars could be tested on British motorways next year.