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UK will allow companies to test driverless cars on motorways

A Google video shows how a self-driving car sees the road. The inset shows the real street scene.

Photo credit: Reuters

LONDON (Bloomberg) — The British government will allow driverless cars to be tested on UK motorways, helping to make the technology available to consumers by the end of the decade.

The government also aims to remove regulatory barriers so that driverless cars can be used on British roads within the current parliamentary term, the UK Treasury said. Trials will be held on local roads this year, with test drives allowed on motorways and strategic roads for the first time in 2017.

“At a time of great uncertainty in the global economy, Britain must take bold decisions now to ensure it leads the world when it comes to new technologies and infrastructure,” Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said in a statement on Saturday. “Driverless cars could represent the most fundamental change to transport since the invention of the internal combustion engine.”

As automakers from Mercedes-Benz to BMW jostle to get driverless cars ready for the road, Osborne is hoping the announcement that will be made in his Budget on Wednesday will help Britain tap into a global market forecast to be worth 900 billion pounds ($1.3 trillion) by 2025.

While tests have already been carried out in the U.S. and Germany, motorway trials are still in their infancy.

The UK trials, which will be designed to ensure the cars’ safety, will help attract investment and enable manufacturers to bring new technologies closer to the point at which they can be sold.

Germany announced earlier this year that it is planning a driverless-car pilot project on a portion of the A9 autobahn, the north-south artery that connects Munich and Berlin.

Automakers are already competing for the top spot in driverless innovation. While Google’s self-piloting cars continue to clock up miles on California roads, BMW said this month it’s working on the BMW Vision Next 100, a car that includes an interactive windshield that can warn of bicycles, pedestrians or other road obstacles even if they’re blocked from human view.

Mercedes earlier this year showed a self-driving luxury concept called the F015, complete with swivel seats to enable driver and passenger to face each other for a chat. And last year, Audi sent an unmanned RS7 down a track at racing speeds.

In the UK, Nissan said it will make its first mass-market driverless car in the northeast, at its Sunderland plant, while Jaguar Land Rover plans to test its autonomous and connected vehicle technology on West Midlands roads this year.

Highways England will run the UK motorway trials and be responsible for safety. It is expected that individual lanes will be closed for the trials, though roads will remain open.

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