Lutz Pathfinder pod, image courtesy of Transport Systems Catapult (manufacturer)

Lutz Pathfinder pod, image courtesy of Transport Systems Catapult (manufacturer)

The United Kingdom is looking into driverless cars, according to news reports. As Jane Wakefield writes for BBC News Technology, “The government wants the UK to become a world leader in driverless technology.”

The British government has published a report called “The Pathway to Driverless Cars,” which describes changes in the law that it is considering in order to accommodate driverless cars on the roads, writes Luke Dormehl for Fast Company. It will announce those changes in the summer of 2017, Dormehl writes.

The UK is funding road tests of driverless cars with £19 million ($29 million), Dormehl writes. Vehicles being tested include “self-driving passenger shuttles in London, autonomous LUTZ ‘pods’ in the cities of Milton Keynes and Coventry, and a modified military jeep in Bristol.” These vehicles are outfitted with laser imaging, panoramic cameras and other sensors, Dormehl writes.

In an article for n3rdabl3 with the headline “The UK’s First Driverless Car Looks Just Like a Dishwasher,” Aaron Richardson writes that the Lutz Pathfinder Pod is not designed for the road, but rather for areas where pedestrians walk. Each pod can carry two passengers for up to 40 miles, at a top speed of 15 mph. Dormehl writes:

The U.K. is, of course, far from the only country to embrace driverless cars. Google first announced the technology in the U.S. in the fall of 2010, by which time its “self-piloting” vehicles had already logged a total of 140,000 miles in the real world—a number that has since swept past 300,000. However, 15 U.S. states have rejected bills related to driverless vehicles, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued a preliminary statement advising states against allowing members of the public to use self-driving vehicles at this time.

Perhaps the U.K. government is hoping that while the U.S. is divided over the topic of driverless cars, it will be able to catch up and maybe even overtake the U.S. on adoption.

The British Government’s report comes after a six-month review of the country’s “suitability for driverless tech,” writes James Vincent for The Verge. Vincent reports that the four pilot programs will involve vehicles that are more like localized shuttles than regular cars, will operate in limited numbers, will not be available for public use, and will always have a licensed driver behind the wheel. The UK’s approach will be “more flexible and less onerous … than the regulatory approach being followed in other countries, notable in the US,” Vincent writes, referring to the fact that driverless vehicles are only legal in four U.S. states.

In a related news item, Brad Tuttle writes for Money magazine that according to a new study, once self-driving vehicles are on the market far fewer people would buy cars. The study, conducted by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, concluded that households would need fewer cars once autonomous vehicles with “return to home” capability were out there. Tuttle writes that the average number of vehicles per household, which is currently 2.1, could drop to 1.2, once self-driving cars become available — a reduction of 43%.

On the plus side, Tuttle writes, driverless cars could be “truly” transformative, potentially eliminating drunk driving. And in a CNET article, Stephen Shankland considers other possibilities once self-driving cars are on the market:

Children and the elderly could get new freedom to move, safety could increase under the control of non-drowsy computers with a 360-degree awareness, and people could get new hours in the day for checking email, watching videos, telephoning colleagues, reading books or taking a nap.

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