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Posted 16/01/2019
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'Experts say we're 10 years away from self-driving cars taking to the roads' - The Mirror 2019

This article was posted on The Mirror during CES 2019. Self-driving vehicles are in abundance at the tech event in Las Vegas this year. Find out about the future of mobility and how Britain is accelerating this movement below. Click here for the full article.

CES is filled with self-driving cars, but British experts take a sensible and cautious approach to the technology.

At CES 2019 there are a lot of car companies showing their technology off. Many are talking about self-driving technology but those vehicles are nowhere near true autonomy.

To get a taste of what’s next I popped to a car park at the back of the CES convention centre and took a ride in a truly self-driving pod.

Covered in cameras and sensors that monitor the road, these pods are usually programmed to follow a route. And while that sounds simple, the sensors are there to deal with the problem of unpredictable humans.

Sensors are the key to keeping autonomous cars and pedestrians safe (Image: Ian Morris)
Sensors are the key to keeping autonomous cars and pedestrians safe (Image: Ian Morris)

I asked “if I run out in front of this pod now, will it cope and stop okay” and the answer was a resounding yes – safety is the primary concern of everyone involved.

These vehicles aren’t cheap, starting at around £80,000, but nor are they aimed at normal consumers. Instead these “last mile” electric cars are about bringing mobility to everyone.

That might be at airports, or helping disabled veterans get around. What it won’t be is appearing on public roads, at least not yet. We’re several years away from seeing that, according to those I spoke to who were involved.

The general consensus was that in around a decade these vehicles will be starting to populate our roads. It’s not the technology that’s delaying things though, that works flawlessly.

Built by a company called Aurrigo the pod actually represents a whole group of companies’ technology. IBM is involved, using Watson as a voice assistant that will accept a destination spoken by the occupant.

The pods respond to voice commands
The pods respond to voice commands

Other firms like Meridian Mobility are crucial too, it deals with the government and other providers and works on legislation that will define how autonomous cars fit into our existing lives.

The rules needed to keep autonomous cars safe on the roads are complex. Meridian considers everything from teaching cars about the highway code right through to reassuring the public about how safe these vehicles are.

The company also considers how autonomous cars might make decisions that go against the rules. That might be things like mounting the curb in an emergency, or pulling through a red light if the emergency services need access.

Computers are, of course, rule based. They can’t break those rules unless they are trained to do so.

And talking to companies like Meridian Mobility and Aurrigo actually gives some hope about the UK’s prospects in a time of massive uncertainty.

All of the companies working on this self-driving pod were positive about the government’s involvement in autonomous vehicles.

I asked if there was a lack of technical understanding with the notoriously tech-phobic government officials, but nothing could be further from the truth according to those I spoke to.

The government has publicly stated that it wants Britain to be a leader in autonomous cars and everyone I spoke to agreed that, indeed, the UK is a leader but also that the government is enormously supportive of the tech.

The Mirror, 2019.