Self-driving cars will make our roads safer, bringing innovation to the UK. But we need regulation and clarity to ensure the industry can trust us as a place where it can flourish, writes Ben Everitt
What do advanced AI and battered cod have in common? Just a few weeks ago, Microsoft founder Bill Gates posted a video picking up fish and chips in a self-driving vehicle he was riding around the streets of central London. In Milton Keynes, my patch, your fish and chips can be delivered by an AI driven autonomous robot.
Gates’ meal on the move was organised by self-driving vehicle developer Wayve, one of the cutting-edge companies helping realise the prime minister’s ambition of turning the UK into an innovation nation. AI companies like Wayve have put the country in a strong position to become the “beacon of science, technology and enterprise” that Rishi Sunak wants.
We have a long history of leadership and innovation, from the spinning jenny to the first computer, and are home to four of the world’s top ten universities. Our technology sector is now worth around £800bn; last year, UK tech companies raised more than their French and German peers put together.
The prime minister has taken welcome steps to centre the government around new technologies, creating a department for innovation and publishing strategies on quantum and AI. The latter is a general purpose technology that will have transformative effects on our economy and society. The government should be lauded for taking decisions today that will chart the course for decades to come.
Yet the UK cannot afford to be complacent. Becoming an innovation nation requires the government to go further, faster.
This is particularly true for the self-driving vehicles sector. Self-driving vehicles promise to bring broad economic, environmental and road safety benefits to the UK. Some of these benefits are already visible in my constituency, with companies like Starship using autonomous robots to deliver meals from local restaurants. Delivery robots have been buzzing around Milton Keynes since 2015 and now in London, Asda customers can already expect to see their groceries delivered by self-driving vehicles, while Ocado is also trialling self-driving technology.
The self-driving vehicles sector promises to add £42bn to the UK economy by 2035, creating jobs, cutting congestion and reducing the number of deaths caused by driver error on our roads. So the government has a big incentive to act now to introduce legislation that will create a full legal framework for the long-term deployment of self-driving vehicles.
This legislation will allow the government to seize global leadership in an exciting, emerging sector. And companies need it to move fast. By failing to act, the government is keeping the benefits of this new technology from the British public, and planting doubt in the minds of tech investors about the potential of the UK as an investment destination.
That is why I am launching the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for self-driving vehicles. The APPG will act as the voice of the self-driving industry in Parliament, and make the case for legislation to enable the deployment of this technology on our roads, while also ensuring that it is done so safely and for the benefit of people in all parts of the country.
Building an innovation nation requires work as much as words. When we look back at the prime minister’s New Year speech at the end of 2023, I hope we will be able to say this government acted to support the UK’s most exciting and transformative industries.