London’s driverless future has moved closer to reality this week as the city’s first autonomous vehicles begin to welcome passengers.
Around 100 people will travel in a prototype shuttle on a two-mile route near London’s O2 Arena over the next three weeks.
It is hoped the project could make it easier for smaller neighbourhoods in Greenwich to access existing public transport hubs.
Five cameras and three lasers will help the vehicle navigate along a riverside path used by pedestrians and cyclists at up to 10mph, although there will also be a trained person on board who can stop the vehicle if required during the tests.
Dr Graeme Smith, chief executive of Oxbotica, which is developing the electric vehicles, told the Press Association: “This needs to be like any other form of transportation.
“It shouldn’t be a white-knuckle ride for passengers. We know we’ve got the software right when the journeys are unremarkable.”
He went on: “The vehicle will see up to 100 metres ahead and if it detects something that it thinks is in its path it will come to a nice graceful halt.
“If it needs to emergency brake if somebody steps right in front, it can do that as well.
“It’s been designed to be safe and fail-safe specifically in a pedestrianised environment. We look out for pedestrians, cyclists, cats and dogs.”
Officials behind the £8 million GATEway Project believe the first paying passengers could use the system by 2019 on a trial basis, and it could eventually be rolled out to similar locations across the country.
Simon Tong, a research scientist at TRL, which is leading the programme, said: “Driverless vehicles could be part of smart cities.
“Existing transport hubs that are well used like the Tube, the Thames Clippers and the Emirates Air Line cable car that we have here, they’re all situated at one end of the Greenwich peninsular but there’s lots of businesses and residences that are much further away than that.
“This is a great way to connect all of those people with those existing transport hubs.”
Self-driving cars were tested by a major manufacturer on public roads in the UK for the first time last month. Nissan clocked up more than 300 miles using prototypes of its Leaf model with enhanced autonomous driver technology on busy routes in east London.
Last week the Government announced plans for the first phase of its £100 million investment in testing infrastructure to develop autonomous driving technology.
A “cluster of excellence” will be created along the M40 corridor, using existing testing centres in Birmingham, Coventry, Oxford, Milton Keynes and London.
Nearly six out of 10 (57%) UK adults believe connected and autonomous vehicles will improve their quality of life, according to a recent survey of 3,641 people by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
Automatic braking and parking, and the ability of cars to self-diagnose faults, were cited by respondents as features most likely to reduce stress.
Collected by RG