Self-Driving Cars Are Gearing Up For European Roads

A Google self-driving car is displayed at the Google headquarters on September 25, 2012 in Mountain View, California. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed State Senate Bill 1298 that allows driverless cars to operate on public roads for testing purposes. The bill also calls for the Department of Motor Vehicles to adopt regulations that govern licensing, bonding, testing and operation of the driverless vehicles before January 2015. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Sorry, Yanks, driverless cars aren’t only for the colonies.

Officials in the United Kingdom have officially given the green light for testing to be done on the country’s roads. The country’s business leaders are giving cities the opportunity to host driverless car trials, which will be carried out in Bristol, Greenwich, Coventry, and Milton Keynes. Once the cities are chosen, trial projects are expected to last between one and a half to three years. This makes the U.K. the latest country to jump behind driverless car technology, which has already been picking up a lot of momentum in the United States.

U.K. Business Secretary Vince Cable said in a press release this summer that he expects the new technology to bring economical benefits to the people of the United Kingdom“The excellence of our scientists and engineers has established the U.K. as a pioneer in the development of driverless vehicles through pilot projects,” he said. “Today’s announcement will see driverless cars take to our streets in less than six months, putting us at the forefront of this transformational technology and opening up new opportunities for our economy and society.”

Not only are officials opening up public roads for driverless car trials, but reviews of road regulations have also been planned in order to study and develop appropriate guidelines for implementing the new technology once it hits the mainstream. There have been many Brits working on driverless technology over the past few years, including a team at Oxford University, but legal and insurance issues have largely kept them away from public roadways, or so says the BBC.


Source: Carl Court/Getty Images
Source: Carl Court/Getty Images

In addition to the United Kingdom, Sweden is set to allow Volvo to begin testing driverless technology in 2017, and Japan has already allowed Nissan to get a jump start, as well. Google, which has been at the cutting edge of driverless technology since the beginning, has announced that it will be manufacturing a number of self-driving prototype cars, each equipped with stop and go buttons in lieu of pedals and a steering wheel. It will also have a “friendly” aesthetic look, which engineers hope will help people be more accepting of the vehicles when they see them out on the road.

“We’re really excited about this vehicle — it’s something that will allow us to really push the capabilities of self-driving technology, and understand the limitations,” said Google’s Chris Urmson, to the BBC.

What does this mean for residents of the U.K.? A number of things, although routines probably aren’t going to change for a while. The U.S. has had driverless cars cruising around states like California and Nevada for quite some time now, yet the technology still isn’t ready to be adopted into the mainstream. With the U.K. only now getting ready to allow driverless vehicles to hit the streets, and in limited markets, the adoption process will take even longer.

Those vehicles in America have paved the road, so to speak, for the rest of the world. There are geographic advantages that the United States — particularly places like California and Nevada —  can offer that small countries like the U.K. cannot. For example, there are plenty of long, grid-like streets that are perfect for testing out new technologies, whereas the winding, small streets in many European cities may have presented a much more formidable challenge to the process.

Again, this may be another factor leading up to a future in which the concept of private vehicle ownership is abandoned, as cities and neighbors will be able to pool their resources — especially for those who live in the tight confines of European cities like London, where public transportation is perhaps the most common method for getting around.This technology could also have a huge impact on the taxi cab industry around the world, as well as in buses. Automation technology already takes control of most of the world’s airliners, so it’s no surprise that it would eventually trickle down to the level of consumer vehicles.

There are also the huge economical and environmental benefits to adopting driverless tech, none of which have been ignored by U.K. officials. “Driverless cars have huge potential to transform the U.K.’s transport network – they could improve safety, reduce congestion, and lower emissions, particularly CO2. We are determined to ensure driverless cars can fulfill this potential, which is why we are actively reviewing regulatory obstacles to create the right framework for trialing these vehicles on British roads,” said U.K. Transport Minister Claire Perry.

Those are the same benefits that driverless tech advocates have been pointing out all along, and in a small, densely populated country like the U.K., those benefits will only be magnified. As it stands, Brits appear to be only a few years out from enjoying their tea while driverless cars ferry them around the United Kingdom.