I, for one, welcome our imminent driverless car overlords

 
Lynsey Barber
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Look mum, no hands (Source: Getty)

The only way we’d know that the government was any more on board with driverless cars was if the Queen had pulled up to the Houses of Parliament today in the back of one rather than in a horse drawn carriage.

It's no wonder, considering the interest from the likes of Google, Apple and the majority of major car makers, that it sees the benefits of a car-free future.

That's safer roads, more enjoyable urban environments, less pollution, and if Britain can get ahead in the race, there’s also plenty of opportunity for the tech to bring benefits to the economy through jobs and productivity gains (estimated to be $5.6 trillion (£3.8 trillion) globally, according to Morgan Stanley).

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This driverless-friendly approach - which, like the fostering of the tech startups of Silicon Roundabout through policy, regulation and collaboration - is already paying off.

Nissan has recently chosen Sunderland as the location for its first mass-market autonomous vehicles to drive themselves off the production line next year and Volvo will test its self-driving cars on London's roads next year.

Meanwhile, Eric Schmidt at Google - the company furthest ahead in development by far - said he would consider the UK for trialling the technology, the first outside the US, and the tech firm has already held talks with the Department for Transport.

The UK’s reputation as an attractive place for driverless innovation is already reaching the right people, aside from our own research and trials taking place in Greenwich.

Plans announced today in the Queen’s Speech to address one of the biggest (but perhaps rather dry) issues - namely how to insure cars which have no driver - will help to overcome one of the major barriers in moving from tests towards putting them on real-life roads more widely.

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As a nation we’re clearly fascinated by, and at the same time looking on in horror at, the evolution of a technology that is probably only surpassed in its complete and utter impact on our lives by the washing machine and the smartphone.

Before her maj' kicked off, driverless cars were creating the most buzz on social, ahead of prison reforms, drones and spaceports, according to Brandwatch. But it's not all good: the nation is pretty terrified by the prospect, with more than half of people saying they would refuse to be a passenger in one.

Clearly there’s still some work to be done on persuading the public of the benefits. It’s great to see then that the trials in Greenwich will soon be opened up to the public in an attempt to address this. But if perceptions and insurance are the only thing holding Britain back from becoming the world leader in the technology, we're not far off driverless cars becoming a reality.

As someone who doesn’t drive, spending most of my life as a pedestrian, I’d rather cross the road on a street full of autonomous vehicles than the nearby A2 through London.

I also look forward to the day when south east London, and the rest of the City won’t be blighted by the sound, smell and sight of congestion-filled A roads.

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