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The government has announced a £20m fund to research and develop driverless car technology in the UK, launched a joint policy team to co-ordinate cross-departmental work, and established a non-statutory code of practice to help ensure public safety.
Business secretary Sajid Javid said the measures would put the UK at the forefront of the intelligent mobility market, which is forecast to be worth around £900bn a decade from now.
The funding pot is part of a £100m mobility research package announced by chancellor George Osborne in his pre-election budget.
Javid said the move would secure highly skilled jobs and play to the strengths of the UK’s well-established automotive sector – the bulk of research and development for the showcase automotive tech demonstrated by the likes of Formula 1 takes place in this country.
Transport minister Andrew Jones said: “The government wants bidders to put forward proposals in areas such as safety, reliability, how vehicles can communicate with each other and the environment around them, and how driverless vehicles can help give an ageing population greater independence. Successful bidders will match-fund projects with their own money.”
To oversee the initiative, the Department for Transport and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will create a joint policy unit, the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), to co-ordinate government policy.
The unit is already working on a number of projects, including tests of roadside communications technology to ease heavy traffic flow and improve safety, and piloting technology that provides drivers with useful journey and safety information.
Meanwhile, the code of practice will provide industry with a more advanced framework to safely trial connected vehicles.
Public safety will be a key consideration in the development of truly autonomous vehicles in the coming years, and the government is keen to ensure they display “exemplary driving characteristics”.
Some of the guidelines set out in the code of practice, which is available to download, cover areas such as ensuring test drivers are trained and hold a full, clean driving licence; that tests are fully insured; and that local councils and emergency services are notified.
It also puts forward a number of technical specifications for driverless cars, including guidance on the data that should be collected and the security of that data. It suggested that testing organisations should consider adopting the security principles set out in the BSI PAS754 Software trustworthiness – governance and management – specification, and take all necessary measures to eliminate the risk of uncontrolled access – physical or online – to a test vehicle.
To date, trials of driverless technology conducted in California have seen a number of crashes, but the vast majority of those involved the driverless cars being rear-ended by humans who were not watching the road ahead.
In one notable incident, a Google driverless car cut up a second autonomous vehicle operated by a firm called Delphi Automotive, forcing it to abandon a planned lane change. Both parties said this demonstrated that the technology was working as intended.