Driverless cars fund launched by UK Government

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  • £20 million research and development fund for driverless cars launched
  • New joint policy unit to co-ordinate government policy on driverless cars and connected technology
  • Code of practice for driverless vehicle testing announced

In a bid to position the UK at the forefront of the driverless cars market, the government has launched a £20 million research and development fund for driverless vehicles.

Industry bidders will be able to put forward research proposals to the fund in areas that support the development of driverless cars, such as safety, reliability and driverless vehicle communication. The fund is also interested in proposals that explore the use of driverless vehicles to give greater independence to an ageing population. 

The £20 million fund is part of the £100 million investment into driverless technology announced by the Chancellor, George Osborne, in his Spring 2015 Budget. Successful bidders will need to match project funding with their own money, said the government.

To boost productivity Britain will need to capitalise on new technologies like driverless vehicles
— Business Secretary Sajid Javid MP

Joint policy unit for driverless vehicles

At the same time, the government announced a new policy unit, the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (C-CAV), as a joint initiative between the Department for Transport and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. commentary

The creation of a joint policy unit recognises the impact driverless technologies will have on so many different areas of UK government policy, from transport to business and from the environment to financial services to health.

The government believes there are significant opportunities to attract investment and position the UK as a leader in driverless technologies. But competition will only increase as new technologies are developed and governments around the world act to attract their own share of the driverless vehicle market.

The unit will co-ordinate policy across government relating to driverless cars and connected technology.

C-CAV is already working on a range of developments, including tests for new roadside communication technology aimed at improving traffic flow and safety through 'connected corridors'. 

The ability of driverless cars to communicate with other vehicles and with the environment around them will be a crucial element in the widespread adoption of self-driving vehicles. By sharing traffic data and interacting with roadside infrastructure, cars will be better able to plan the most efficient routes, avoid hold-ups and improve road safety.

Code of practice for driverless car testing

Ministers also announced the publication of a new code of practice for testing driverless cars and autonomous vehicle technologies on public roads. 

The guidance provides recommendations to manufacturers aimed at maintaining safety and minimising potential risks as they start to test driverless cars and their associated technologies on the roads. By providing a framework for such testing, the government wants to help industry safely trial driverless cars in real-life scenarios, allowing manufacturers to develop more sophisticated versions of existing models.

Driverless cars will bring great benefits to our society and economy and I want the UK to lead the way in developing this exciting technology.

Our code of practice clearly shows that the UK is in the best position when it comes to testing driverless cars and embracing the motoring of the future.

We now look forward to working with industry to make this a reality.
— Transport Minister Andrew Jones MP

The code will apply to a range of vehicles, said the government, from smaller automated pods and shuttles, through to cars, vans and heavy duty vehicles.

By specifically mentioning the range of vehicles covered by the code, the government has acknowledged that different manufacturers are pursuing different autonomous models – from the fully self-driving car favoured by Google to the partially autonomous models preferred by many traditional car-makers.

The release of the code of practice was an action promised by the government's review, The Pathway to Driverless Cars, published earlier this year.

The review noted that "Real-world testing of automated technologies is possible in the UK today, providing a test driver is present and takes responsibility for the safe operation of the vehicle; and that the vehicle can be used compatibly with road traffic law."

The publication of the code of practice is intended to promote safety during the testing phase, recognising that some testing will need to be carried out in 'real world' situations, as well as in test laboratories and on dedicated test tracks.

What do you think of the government's plans? Are there any other actions you would like to see ministers take to promote driverless vehicles in the UK?