Google Car
Toyota Prius modified to operate as a Google driverless car driving a test course.[

 

The Buckinghamshire town of Milton Keynes, most famous for its roundabouts and concrete cows, has been selected to take part in a trial of new, driverless 'pods', which will whisk people along the one-mile route between its railway station and shopping centre.

Milton Keynes was chosen for the pilot project because of its wide pavements.

Though the pods' precise specifications have yet to be finalised, it is thought that each will carry two passengers plus baggage, and scoot along at speeds of up to 12mph - four times faster than the average walking pace.

As the pods will move along pavements, rather than on roads, each one will be fitted with special sensors to enable them to avoid pedestrians and other obstacles, as well as one another. The pods will use a communications system that enables them to ensure they "spread out" evenly across town.

Anyone wishing to hail a pod can do so using a smartphone app. The cost of the one-mile trip will be around £2, payable by mobile phone.

 

Although the pods will run in separate lanes, they are said to be so sophisticated that dividing barriers between these and ordinary pavements will eventually be removed - as will joysticks or steering wheels, which are being fitted to the first models to ensure the technology works.

A total of 100 pods will take part in the initial trial, from 2015-2017, but if successful it is hoped that pods will start to appear across the UK.

Devised by the Automotive Council UK, working with Cambridge University and engineering firm Arup, the trial is being backed by the business department. Minister for higher education David Willetts describes the project as the start of a "science fiction future". In 2012 Willetts tried out a Google driverless car on a trip to California. Google cars have apparently driven more than 400,000 miles without an accident and are already legal in some US states.

 

Business secretary Vince Cable added: "Driverless cars have the potential to generate the kind of high-skilled jobs we want Britain to be famous for, as well as cutting congestion and pollution and improving road safety."

Although the technology is up to speed, a few legal issues still need to be resolved - such as the question of whether passengers inside the car are legally responsible for the vehicle in the unlikely event they drunkenly mow down a concrete cow.