The coming year will see driverless vehicle technology become part of everyday life in Britain, according to experts.
The sector has already seen a sharp acceleration in development over the past 12 months with the Government backing the technology in the last Budget – promising fully driverless cars on the roads within three years.
The first street trials have already been successfully completed by UK Autodrive, who worked with JLR, Tata and Ford to test vehicles on public roads in Coventry in the autumn.
In spring 2018 a fleet of up to 40 driverless pods will take to the walkways of Milton Keynes to enable passengers to complete the “last mile” of their journeys in the town.
A pool of volunteers will soon be selected to take part in the trials.
Image: The autonomous pods set to be used in Milton Keynes are going through final trials
However, there is an enormous challenge to overcome all the legal hurdles, insurance questions and physically changing the street furniture to accommodate the new technology in Milton Keynes, let alone other UK towns and cities.
Sky News was given access to some of the final testing of the Milton Keynes autonomous pods at the purpose-built research arena in Coventry run by manufacturer Aurrigo.
Engineering manager Nick Ridler described the deployment in the spring – the biggest autonomous vehicle project ever attempted in the UK – as a “huge step”.
Video: October 2016: Taking a ride in a driverless car
He told Sky News: “The year coming is the year of autonomy, it is going to hit the streets and people are going to aware of what we can offer and how we can improve lives.”
Guide Dogs for the Blind is one of many organisations working with the development of the vehicles to try to ensure manufacturers think of every road user and every possible scenario.
Aurrigo chief executive Dave Keene acknowledges that the public still needs to be convinced about driverless vehicles but is confident the technology will ultimately reduce the number of accidents and deaths on Britain’s roads.
“The guarantee is that we are spending hundreds and hundreds of man years of testing, we are doing thousands and thousands of tests every minute to prove categorically that these vehicles are safe,” he said.
Video: April 2017: Driverless car rated by Sky reporter’s mum
The “last mile” concept is, he believes, an achievable short-term goal.
Mr Keene said: “We have all had experience where we get to a train station and we say to a taxi driver, who may have queued for 30 minutes outside the station, I want to go to a location and he knows that is only 600m or a kilometre away – he doesn’t want to take you on that last mile and come back and queue up.
“That is the area where we are going to take over.”
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A recent report forecast that the connected and automated vehicle technology sector could be worth up to £28bn to the UK economy by 2035.
The outcome of the 2018 pod project in Milton Keynes and other research ongoing around the UK will help determine whether those predictions are realistic.