Self-driving cars to drive 200 miles of UK country roads in key trial

Self-driving cars to drive 200 miles of UK country roads in key trial
Self-driving cars to drive 200 miles of UK country roads in key trial

A driverless car is set to undertake the “most complex autonomously controlled journey” ever attempted in the UK, a 200 mile route with many features unique to driving British roads.

The HumanDrive project, a collaboration between Nissan, Highways England, Groupe Renault, Mitsubishi, Cranfield University, Transport Systems Catapult and others, will simulate a range of challenging UK driving conditions before the car begins its 200 mile journey in December 2019.

The route will take in winding country lanes, A-roads, high-speed roundabouts and motorways, which are very different to the US roads many driverless cars have been trained on.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17: Rush hour traffic begins to buid up heading North through the Blackwall Tunnel past the Canary Wharf business district on January 17, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
UK roads – and traffic – pose significant obstacles for driverless cars (Photo: Getty)

Driverless, self-driving or autonomous cars are all capable of navigating roads free from human intervention thanks to advanced control systems which work in conjunction with lasers, radars and cameras.

Currently in the UK, no car is allowed to drive on public roads without a human to grab the wheel and take control at any time.

Driverless cars will hit UK roads by 2021

“UK roads throw up some particular challenges. They are different from American roads, with roundabouts and demanding country lanes. These are really testing environments,” Mark Westwood, chief technology officer of the Transport Systems Catapult, told the BBC.

“This project is about advancing the state of the art and trying to do something more demanding. The control system will learn to drive like a human.”

HumanDrive will collect data from human drivers in a simulation at Leeds University, on private test tracks and on a small selection of public roads before undertaking the route next year.

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US companies Google and Tesla have been leading the charge towards autonomous vehicles, while Apple confirmed it was working on its own driverless systems in 2016.

Ride hailing app Uber is developing its own fleet of driverless vehicles, while traditional automakers Ford, BMW and Audi are working on their own.

The UK government has set the ambitious target of having the first fully-driverless cars on full use on UK roads by 2021.

MALTON, ENGLAND - MAY 24: A tractor drives along a country road near the village of Kirby Misperton on May 24, 2016 in Malton, England. North Yorkshire Planning and Regulatory Committee voted seven to four in favour of a planning application submitted by Third Energy to conduct fracking at the KM8 drilling site near the village. Hydraulic Fracturing, or fracking, is a technique designed to recover gas and oil from shale rock. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
Tractors, an unlikely sight on US roads, are very common in parts of the UK (Photo: Getty)

Both Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and Chancellor Philip Hammond have spoken extensively about how autonomous vehicles are set to revolutionise the lives of the elderly and disabled.

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However, many obstacles still remain in the form of poor infrastructure for driverless technologies across the UK, particularly in remote areas. Many of the UK’s roads are also in need of repair before autonomous cars can drive on them.

“Highways England sees the potential benefits of greater automation of vehicles to deliver improved safety and increased mobility,” said Mike Wilson, executive director for safety, engineering and standards at Highways England.

“We will be working closely with our HumanDrive partners on the plans for the on-road testing. We will be taking the research and development of the Nissan vehicle to map how the introduction of such an autonomous vehicle can shape the future of our roads, in terms of safety, emissions, journey times and capacity.”

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