The UK government has given the green light to test driverless cars on public roads before the end of 2013. Previously, dummy runs have been made only on private roads in the country, but a blueprint by the Department for Transport has revealed plans to extend those trials as part of a £28 billion investment to reduce congestion.
To begin with, only lightly used rural or suburban roads will be used, and with a person riding shotgun ready to take over in emergencies.
The testing team will be made up of Oxford University engineers who have been developing and testing autonomous driving technology on an adapted Nissan Leaf for a while. It uses lasers and cameras to learn its routes and memorise small runs.
Driverless vehicles are defined by the Transport department as capable of "using knowledge of the environment in which they are driving".
"They maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front at a set speed and without deviating from their lane - all without the driver's input," it says.
The US is one of the trendsetters in the testing and use of driverless cars, with public testing already commonplace in several states. Google has been instrumental in development of the technology, with a fleet of converted Toyota Prius hybrids already deployed. Company co-founder Sergey Brin also believes that they will be commercially available before the end of the decade.