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Driverless cars are tested on UK streets for the first time: 'Pods' navigate Milton Keynes' roundabouts

A driverless vehicle carrying passengers has taken to Britain's public roads for the first time today.


The trial is aimed at paving the way for autonomous cars to hit the roads by the end of the decade.


The government is encouraging technology companies, carmakers and start-ups to develop and test their autonomous driving technologies in Britain. 



The hope is to build an industry to serve a worldwide market which it forecasts could be worth around £900 billion ($1.1 trillion) by 2025.


Earlier this year, the government launched a consultation on changes to insurance rules and motoring regulations to allow driverless cars to be used by 2020 and said it would allow such vehicles to be tested on motorways from next year.


A pod, like a small two-seater car, developed by a company spun out from Oxford University was tested in Milton Keynes, with organisers hoping the trials will feed vital information on how the vehicle interacts with pedestrians and other road-users.


'Today's first public trials of driverless vehicles in our towns is a ground-breaking moment,' Britain's business minister Greg Clark said.

'The global market for autonomous vehicles present huge opportunities for our automotive and technology firms and the research that underpins the technology and software will have applications way beyond autonomous vehicles,' he said.


The pod operates fully without human control, using data from cameras and radars to move around pedestrianised areas.


It was made by Oxford University spin-out Oxbotica, with software developed by the university's Oxford Robotics Institute.



Carmakers Jaguar Land Rover and Ford are both part of driverless car projects in Britain, as major carmakers seek to head off the challenge from technology firms such as Alphabet Inc's Google, which is also developing autonomous vehicles.


But all parties still need to overcome technological and legal obstacles including determining who would be responsible in the event of an accident, with recent accidents involving driving assistance systems raising safety concerns.


Organisers in Milton Keynes ran a number of exercises ahead of the trial including mapping the town and conducting safety planning with the local council.


The city, around 45 miles (70 km) north of London, was selected alongside three other locations for autonomous technology projects partly due to its wide pavements and cycle path network.


The next trials will take place in Coventry, Greenwich and Bristol. 


Britain is aiming to be more flexible in its approach to driverless testing than some other major economies, with Germany saying it will require black boxes to be fitted in such vehicles and automakers having to navigate different rules across US states.





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