Britain starts public trial of driverless cars
London — Britain began testing driverless cars in four cities Wednesday, launching the first official trials ahead of a series of planned rule reviews to accommodate the new technology.
Four types of autonomous vehicles under trial — including a shuttle that looks like a larger golf cart and a compact two-seater "pod" car — were unveiled in London. Officials and journalists tried out the shuttle at the event, taking short rides around a public square.
The project was "still in the early days," Transport Minister Claire Perry said, but she added the new technology has the potential make roads safer and attract global investment.
Britain has ambitions to lead development in driverless cars, which are also being tested in U.S. cities by companies including Google. Auto companies from Mercedes-Benz to Nissan are also developing self-drive vehicles, though most are not ready to go on public roads and highways.
Regulation and legal changes are a major hurdle, and it would be some years before highly automated cars feature on the roads.
Britain's government says the next step is for officials to publish guidelines for companies to test the cars in "real-life scenarios" on roads — including highways — by summer. All cars in the trials will have a qualified driver present so that they can take control should anything go awry.
Domestic road regulations will be reviewed by 2017, but officials say fully driverless cars are unlikely to be used on roads until 2030.
The British government is spending $29 million on four trial centers around the country.