UK HumanDrive initiative to test self-driving cars on country roads

A 200-mile journey around the UK's difficult road conditions is due to begin soon.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer
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The UK is planning a new autonomous car trial which will see test vehicles navigate across the country's more difficult driving conditions.

The HumanDrive initiative, a collaborative effort between Nissan, Hitachi Europe, Cranfield University, Transport Systems Catapult, and Highways England, among other companies and agencies, will focus on perfecting navigation systems for conditions including country roads and high-speed roundabouts.

Simulated tests will be performed to ensure the self-driving vehicles are as safe as possible before the cars take to public roads in a 200-mile journey, due to begin in 2019, as reported by the BBC.

The UK government has previously said that it wants self-driving cars on the road by 2021. However, this ambitious plan has a number of pitfalls.

The first issue is the state of the country's roads and driving infrastructure itself. Poor roads and potholes cost local authorities roughly £30 million in compensation every year, and potholes count for a third of repair bills reaching at least £2.8 billion every year.

As more cars hit the road, aging UK infrastructure creaks under the weight -- especially in older towns and cities where roads were originally designed for more antiquated methods of transport.

It is all well and good to want to introduce self-driving cars to the road to improve safety and appear at the top of innovation, but without getting the basics right first and maintaining what is already there to an acceptable standard, it is possible that otherwise unnecessary damage or collisions may occur -- which may also impede testing.

The second challenge is how quickly other countries are already developing such technologies. The US, in particular, has warmed to the idea of autonomous vehicles and tests are already being performed in many cities.

Google-owned Waymo alone has clocked millions of miles in tests on public roads in the US and has recently commissioned Chrysler for thousands of semi-autonomous Pacifica minivans for a public ride-hailing scheme due to launch later this year.

See also: Nissan tests self-driving cars on Japanese roads

Despite the problems that UK roads pose for new technologies, the project's participants remain optimistic.

"UK roads throw up some particular challenges," said Mark Westwood, chief technology officer of the Transport Systems Catapult. "They are different from American roads, with roundabouts and demanding country lanes. These are really testing environments."

"This project is about advancing the state of the art and trying to do something more demanding," Westwood added. "The control system will learn to drive like a human."

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