‘Incredible potential’ – UK Government sinks £40million into self-driving buses and vans

Cambridge: New driverless buses undergo trials in June

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A new £40 million competition to kick-start commercial self-driving services, such as delivery vehicles and passenger shuttles, has been launched today by Lord Grimstone, Minister for Investment. The aim is to fund projects to help bring to market the latest developments in autonomous commercial vehicles.

The ‘Commercialising Connected and Automated Mobility’ competition will provide grants intended to help the launch of self-driving vehicles in the UK in 2025.

Those could include self-driving buses, vans and passenger ‘shuttles’.

Some £1.5 million of the funding goes to studies into schemes using self-driving vehicles on guided routes as a potential alternative to traditional bus routes or railways.

It’s hoped other vehicles could be devised that move people and luggage at airports and containers at shipping ports.

The Government estimates that self-driving vehicle technology could be worth £42 billion to the UK economy by 2035, potentially creating 38,000 new skilled jobs.

The first vehicles to be listed as self-driving in the UK – vehicles approved under the Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) Regulation – could be available for people to purchase, lease or rent later this year.

But vehicles will undergo rigorous testing and will only be permitted to drive themselves when they have met stringent standards.

Earlier this year the Highway code was updated in order to allow for autonomous technology on UK roads.

Currently, there are no vehicles approved for self-driving on Britain’s roads meaning drivers must always remain in control of the vehicle.  

Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Chief Executive Mike Hawes said: “Self-driving vehicles offer major benefits to society – improving road safety, supporting new jobs and economic growth, and enabling greater mobility for everyone – so the UK is rightly seeking to be at the forefront of this technological evolution.

“Recent regulatory reforms have helped Britain establish itself as a leader in the rollout of self-driving passenger vehicles, and today’s announcement is a significant step towards self-driving public transport and goods delivery services becoming a reality.

“This new funding competition will help drive innovation and, potentially, private investment in UK automotive, ensuring cutting-edge self-driving technology finds a clearer path to UK roads.”

Minister for Investment Lord Grimstone said: “Self-driving vehicles have the potential to revolutionise people’s lives, whether it’s by helping to better connect people who rely on public transport with jobs, local shops, and vital services, or by making it easier for those who have mobility issues to order and access services conveniently.

“This funding will help unlock the incredible potential of this new and growing industry, building on the continued development of self-driving technology, attracting investment and helping make our transport cleaner, safer and more efficient.”

Transport Minister Trudy Harrison said: “With around 88% of road collisions currently caused by human error, this funding will drive the introduction of new technology to improve travel for all, while boosting economic growth and highly skilled jobs across the nation.”

Despite the news it will still be illegal to even use a phone behind the wheel, as per the sweeping changes to mobile use introduced in the UK last month, which now sees drivers fined £200 just for touching a device while behind the wheel.

The new measures, which follow a public consultation, were described as an interim measure by the Government to support the early deployment of self-driving vehicles.

But a full regulatory framework is expected to be in place by 2025.

Many cars on the roads at the moment already have several features in place that will steer, brake and even change lanes without driver intervention.

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