The government is offering £20 million to research and develop driverless cars and fast-track the technology within the UK.

It is hoped the competition, launched on Friday, will put the UK at the forefront of the smart mobility market, expected to be worth £900 billion by 2025. While ten years ago Britain’s car industry was in decline, it has emerged as one of the most productive amongst its European peers. This new technology may accelerate competitiveness in the future, business secretary Sajid Javid believes.

GATEway project driverless car Greenwich
The GATEway driverless car project in Greenwich received £8 million in funding last year

He said: “To boost productivity Britain will need to capitalise on new technologies like driverless vehicles, securing high skilled jobs for those who want to work hard and get on, and contributing to a more prosperous future for the whole of the country.

“Our world beating automotive industry, strengths in innovation and light touch regulatory approach to testing driverless technology combine to make the UK market competitive and an attractive destination for investors.”

However, the UK is behind the US in the driverless car stakes, with Google already piloting its fleet of driverless Lexus models in two US states already. But the US is restricted by differing regulation amongst states, unlike the UK which has the green light to test driverless cars on public roads.

Milton Keynes, Greenwich and Bristol have driverless car projects, all using a prototype car rather than a model consumer’s may be used to.

Driverless car policy unit

The Department for Transport and Department for Business have created a new unit called the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, which will write the policy for connected technology.

It is currently working on a range of new technological developments, including plans to test new roadside communication technology to improve traffic flow and safety through ‘connected corridors’. This would pilot technology that will provide drivers with useful journey and safety information.

The £20 million competition announced today is part of the £100 million for research into intelligent mobility announced by the Chancellor in the Spring 2015 Budget.

Driverless car code of practice

To be eligible for the funding, researchers, developers and engineers will have to stick to a new code of practice published by the government on Friday.

For example, it outlines that all vehicles must be equipped with a data recording device which is capable of capturing data from the sensor and control systems associated with the automated features as well as other information concerning the vehicle’s movement. In addition, driverless car pilots will have to ensure the car complies with cyber security advice given by the UK’s software trustworthiness guidelines and that all software has been thoroughly tested.

When will driverless cars be on UK roads? 

One existing project, GATEway, is already underway at Greenwich in London after receiving £8 million in funding from government backed Innovate UK last year. 

Professor Nick Reed, Technical Lead of GATEway said: “Much research and development is required before driverless cars become commonplace on our streets, but the launch of the Code of Practice brings this vision a step closer. It sets the scene for the safe evaluation and development of highly and fully automated vehicles for years to come and is another example of how the UK is leading the charge in this area. Combined with the £20 million funding and the launch of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, the UK is now firmly positioned at the centre of future mobility.                                                                                         

"Now that the new Code of Practice has given the green light for testing on UK roads, it won’t be long before you see one of our self-driving vehicles out in the public again.”

Transport minister Andrew Jones added: “Driverless cars will bring great benefits to our society and economy and I want the UK to lead the way in developing this exciting technology. Our code of practice clearly shows that the UK is in the best position when it comes to testing driverless cars and embracing the motoring of the future. We now look forward to working with industry to make this a reality.