Cow sculpture at Milton Keynes "The Centre"

Cow sculpture at Milton Keynes “The Centre.”

The English town called Milton Keynes will be the first town in England to have a trial run of driverless cars, reports Mark Piggott for the International Business Times. The Buckinghamshire town, best known for its roundabouts and concrete cows, has been selected for this pilot project because it has wide pavements, Piggott writes.

The project will begin in 2015, when 100 battery-powered pod devices will run between the town’s train station and its main shopping center (called The Centre), a route that will also encompass offices in-between, according to Electric Vehicle (EV) News. The pods will travel at speeds up to 12 mph, which Piggott writes is four times faster than the average walking pace. Customers will be able to hire the pods using smartphone apps. A one-mile trip will cost around £2, Piggott writes. Pods will accommodate two passengers and their luggage, writes EV News.

Piggott goes on to note:

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. […]

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 full rollout of the pods throughout the United Kingdom is expected in 2017, after the trial has been completed, Piggott writes. The trial run, expected to cost £65 million over five years, is being backed by the U.K.’s Business Secretary Vince Cable and Higher Education Minister David Willets, EV News writes. It was devised by the Automotive Council UK, working with Cambridge University and the engineering film Arup. Piggott quotes Willets as calling the project “the start of a science fiction future.”

Willetts “tried out” a Google driverless car in 2012, on a trip to California, Piggott writes, noting that driverless cars are already legal in some U.S. states, and that Google’s autonomous cars have driven more than 400,000 miles without an accident. He reports that Cable said: “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.” Piggott concludes that the U.K. still needs to iron out a few legal issues, “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.”

Although EV News writes that these trials will be the first driverless cars on Britain’s streets, this blog reported in August 2011 that small driverless pods transport people around Heathrow airport, and that there were plans to bring them to the U.S.

The town of Milton Keynes (sometimes abbreviated MK) is about 45 miles northwest of London, notes Wikipedia, and in 2011, had a population of 229,941. It took its name from the existing village of MIlton Keynes at that location.

Image by rjw1 (bob walker).

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