TECH TALK: Driverless cars set to hit British roads

Google's driverless car
Google's driverless car

The long drive to work will soon be a thing of the past. Or at least - the actual driving will be. Driverless cars are no longer a thing of sci-fi dreams. They are coming to a road near you.

Google has been leading the way for cars which drive themselves, writes Alex Evans. The American tech giant has already tested its odd-looking autonomous vehicle on US roads, allowing drivers to relax while the car accelerates, brakes, corners and indicates entirely - some might say spookily - by itself.

The tech works using a combination of GPS maps, camera sensors and radar, allowing each car to work out where it is, scan for other cars and pedestrians and read road signs and traffic lights.

Many driverless cars look like a normal vehicle, with a wheel and pedals so the owner can still take control at a moment’s notice.

Google’s vehicle makes no such concessions - it doesn’t even have a steering wheel, just a stop and go button, and the debate now centres around whether to let driverless cars be fully autonomous, or insist on having a human ready to wrest back control.

Though it seems like a minefield for legal and insurance issues - who’s responsible for a crash when the computer is in charge? - Google insists the technology is safe.

In California, the driverless machine has already completed 300,000 accident-free miles on public roads.

Just this month, German luxury auto maker Audi claimed to have broken the world record for self-driving cars. A version of the Audi A7 took to a German F1 track and managed to finish a lap five seconds faster than a human-controlled car, reaching 149 miles per hour.

It’s not some far-flung idea, but it’s coming in a matter of months. The UK Government has invited British cities to bid to be one of three locations to act as test cities for driverless cars.

It means the vehicles will be on British roads as soon as this coming January.

Would you entrust your life to an auto-driving vehicle? Many might say no, but car makers are pressing on with the self-driving future, so you might have to share the M1 with Google’s most ambitious project in ten years either way.