The UK car industry will take a lead role in the development of the autonomous car within six months, when three government-funded pilot schemes start across the country that will result in 'driverless' prototypes running in large-scale tests in and around our cities.
Government Business Secretary Vince Cable today announced £10m of funding to be split between three bids, which will be identified via a bidding process administrated by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Technology Strategy Board.
The bids are expected to come from new consortia formed by local governments, car-makers, technology suppliers and associated businesses, and must be submitted by October.
The winning bids will be selected next year, enabling autonomous cars to take to the roads from January 2015. The pilot schemes will last between 18- and 36 months, and encourage research and development of both driver-supervised and totally driverless vehicles.
At the same time, a reform process of the UK's traffic laws will be undertaken to allow for legal autonomous driving – something that will span right down to a redrafting of The Highway Code. This follows an amendment of Article 8 of The United Nations' Vienna Convention agreed in April, which paves the way for autonomous driving in 72 countries around the world, the UK included.
By the terms of that amendment, which must be enacted into UK law, cars will be allowed to run autonomously on public roads as long as a driver is always able to "override or take control of the car".
Speaking at vehicle test and research facility, MIRA, where he tested a driverless car with the Science Minister Greg Clark, Cable said: "The excellence of our scientists and engineers has established the UK as a pioneer in the development of driverless vehicles through pilot projects.
"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.
"Through the government’s industrial strategy we are backing the automotive sector as it goes from strength to strength. We are providing the right environment to give businesses the confidence to invest and create high skilled jobs."
Today's development follows a pledge made by the UK government last year that it intended to "turn the UK into a world leader for the development of driverless cars".
These UK schemes will beat Volvo's recently announced 'DriveMe' large-scale test of autonomous cars onto the road by up to two years.