United Kingdom prepares to play leading role in driverless car revolution

The country which started the industrial revolution and the first revolution in mobility is determined not to sit on the sidelines as the next mobility revolution unfolds. The UK government wants to accelerate the adoption of autonomous vehicle technology and ensure that the UK plays a prominent role by establishing a UK city or region as a test and demonstration site for self-driving cars.

To start this process, it convened about 100 people in London in Mid-February to discuss the criteria for site selection. The city/region will be funded with 10 Mio Pounds. The very efficiently managed workshop rapidly generated insights about success criteria for such sites.

There seemed to be much consensus that fully autonomous vehicles hold the most promise; they will provide completely new opportunities in mobility services, applications and business models. There was some disagreement as to the state of autonomous technology. While some argued that the technology is basically there, others voiced concerns that significant challenges still remain. Disagreement was also visible with respect to standardization and interoperability. While some argued that the vehicles should be standardized and easily transferred to new locations, others argued that imposing such requirements would be too early and would accomplish little.

A representative from Google stressed the importance of speed in the implementation – a comment that reflected a sense of urgency which most participants seemed to share: There is only a short window of opportunity to gain a leadership position in this rapidly moving field.

Within Europe, the United Kingdom has some unique advantages for the early implementation of self-driving cars: It is not bound by the stipulations of the Vienna Convention on Traffic that every car must be controlled by a driver at all times. Unlike most European Countries (except Spain) it has never ratified the convention. In addition, its car industry is not as dominant as in many other countries (the UK is on position 17 of the 40 nations listed by the Organization of Motorvehicle Manufacturers (OICA) with respect to the number of employees in the car industry as percentage of the whole workforce; In contrast, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Germany and Spain are among the top five. This also means that the UK has less to fear from the disruption of the auto industry which fully autonomous vehicles might cause. At the same time, the UK has an excellent industry and research base, top universities including Prof. Newmanns Oxford Mobile Robotics Group, and already has a head start with more traditional electric driverless pods operating at Heathrow.

Given that another project is already under way to implement 100 self-driving pods in Milton-Keynes between 2015 and 2017(funded at much higher rates), the UK might indeed achieve a critical mass to become a key player in this autonomous vehicle revolution.

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