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UK plans to tackle congestion with autonomous cars

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The UK will start testing autonomous vehicles on public roads by the end of 2013 as part of the government’s goal of reducing traffic congestion in Britain.

This effort will be part of a $46.4 billion investment made by the Department for Transport in order to reduce congestion, and according to the BBC, a governmental report into autonomous vehicles has concluded that “they maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in the front at a set speed without deviating from their lane”.

Autonomous vehicle testing on public roads isn’t something new to the US for instance – Google has a fleet of self-driving Toyota Prius models – nor is it in Europe in general – Volvo’s SARTRE project – but it has never occurred in the UK till now.

These autonomous or ‘driverless’ cars would rely on knowledge of their environment and surroundings collected via a variety of sensors and cameras however, a human driver will still be required to sit behind the wheel as a back-up safety precaution.

An Oxford University team will be the first to test their autonomous technology on Britain’s public roads; till now they have only tested it on the grounds of the Oxford Science Park. We should mention however, that the autonomous vehicles will be limited to traveling on lightly used rural and suburban roads in a ‘semi-autonomous’ mode so as to allow human passengers time to intervene if anything went wrong.

The Oxford University team’s leader – Professor Paul Newman – told the BBC that he was excited that the British government could see that engineering is important. He is of the impression that this is a great area to be working in at the current time because it’s where things are moving at a fast clip.

Sergey Brin – Google co-founder – also said that autonomous vehicle technology will become commercially available within the decade being of the opinion that self-driving cars will dramatically improve the quality of life for everyone, both drivers and pedestrians.

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