Outside of urban areas, many American roads can be long, straight, and seemingly endless. If you’ve ever driven in the U.K., you’ll know the experience can be quite the opposite, with narrow and winding country lanes forcing you to stay alert for oncoming vehicles, pedestrians, and wandering wildlife.
Considering such challenges, the U.K.’s HumanDrive initiative believes Britain’s country roads offer the perfect environment for the kind of rigorous testing necessary for driverless technology. Together with Nissan’s European Technical Centre, HumanDrive is currently designing a 200-mile course through the countryside that it claims will be “the most complex journey yet attempted across the U.K. without driver input.”
Besides the quiet country lanes, the route will also include busier roads such as highways and everyday road features including traffic circles and lights.
To prepare the driverless car for its mammoth journey, which isn’t expected to take place until late 2019, a team of experienced human drivers will use simulators hooked up to computers that will collect data for the autonomous car’s software. Data-collecting cars will also be sent across the U.K. to help further enhance the car’s technology.
The self-driving vehicle will be tested first on private land for several months before it goes tootling off across the U.K.
HumanDrive is tapping the expertise of other organizations to help it achieve its goal, among them Hitachi, Cranfield University, the University of Leeds, Highways England, and Transport Systems Catapult, which led the first self-driving trial in the U.K. in 2016.
Britain’s business and energy secretary, Greg Clark, welcomed the project, saying, “Low-carbon and self-driving vehicles are the future and they are going to drive forward a global revolution in mobility.”
He noted the importance of being at the forefront of the technology, claiming it could be worth as much as 52 billion pounds (about $74 billion) to the U.K. economy by 2035. “Trailblazing projects like the HumanDrive project will play a vital role helping us deliver on that ambition,” Clark said.
Competition in the self-driving space is fierce, however, with plenty of companies around the world investing huge sums of money in developing the technology. In the U.S. alone, Waymo is making big strides, while the likes of Uber, Lyft, and major carmakers also busy working on their own driverless vehicles.
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