Driverless cars — or more accurately driverless pods — took to the streets in the southern British town of Milton Keynes on Tuesday in what organizers are calling the first public test of self-driving cars in the UK.
Guided by radar and camera technology, the battery-powered two seaters’ steering wheels turned on their own and navigated their way through round abouts, turned corners at 5 mph and then stopped as pedestrians crossed its path.
Transport Systems Catapult (TSC), the not-for-profit research center which is running the trial tests and is helping to develop the technology, called the test a “success.”
“Driverless vehicles are coming to Britain and what we have demonstrated today is a huge step on that journey,” said Neil Fulton, a program director at TSC.
The egg-shaped vehicle, with its purple trim, was developed by Oxford University spin off Oxbotica.
Equipped with software developed by the Oxford Robotics Institute, the electric pod has a tablet computer on the dashboard, which allows the car to switch to autonomous mode with a touch of the screen.
Even though Jaguar Land Rover and Ford are conducting self-driving vehicle tests in the UK, the country lags behind others in autonomous car development because it doesn’t have home based auto companies like Germany, China, Japan and the U.S. have.
In the meantime, British project organizers plan to have 40 driverless cars operating in the Milton Keynes area next year, but Oxbotica CEO Graeme Smith has longer-term plans.
“Our ambition is more than just cars, more than just pods. It is really anything with wheels that can be automated,” Smith told Reuters. “We are certainly thinking about buses … and the off-road environment, not just pavements and roads.”