Business secretary Sajid Javid has committed £11m towards an autonomous vehicle research programme, as part of plans to keep the UK 'at the forefront of the robotics revolution'.
Combining studies from over 10 UK universities and transport consultancy, TRL, the programme has launched a series of targeted sub-projects aimed at ensuring the efficiency and safety of fully autonomous road travel.
Led by Jaguar Land Rover and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the research focuses on a range of issues.
- the use of advanced radar and video sensing to interpret the external environment
- the impact of road surface conditions and the presence of other road users
- the need to ensure that the new technology can adapt to drivers' individual characteristics
- managing safe transitions between human and automated system control
- the integration of distributed control systems and cloud computing
- the use of data derived from an intelligent infrastructure, drivers and automated vehicles themselves to ensure smooth interactions
The new programme forms part of a wider initiative, which includes the chancellor's Spring Budget 2015 announcement of £100m collaborative R&D funding and the publication of a code of practice for trialling driverless cars on public roads.
Another beneficiary is an Atkins-led pilot, based in Bristol, which has now been given the green light. It is stressing the legal and insurance implications of autonomous vehicles and the importance of developing technology that will comply with these.
Outside the UK, Mercedes-Benz has just introduced onto the German autobahns its Actros automated truck, which automatically activates a ‘Highway Autopilot’ system for the driver - who must be present - to accept with the touch of a button.
Equipped with front-mounted radar and stereo cameras, the truck is designed to operate in self-sufficient mode by actively tracking lane markings and other roadside information, so dispensing with the need for a continuous internet connection.
On reaching the planned exit, the truck alerts the driver to take back control for the slower roads lying ahead.
In Japan, Toyota has tested a modified Lexus GS on Tokyo's Shuto Expressway. The company plans to introduce products around 2020, when the city is due to host the Olympic Games.
Meanwhile vehicle manufacturer Volvo says it will accept full liability for accidents involving its own driverless cars.