Driverless cars set to cruise through UK by next year

The UK government announced Wednesday new measures to allow driverless cars on UK roads beginning January 2015.

Chris Urmson, director of Google's Self-Driving Car Project, stands in front of a self-driving car at the Computer History Museum after a presentation in Mountain View, California May 13, 2014.

"Look Ma, no hands!" is an expression that could become more common in Britain in the next six months. 

Beginning January 2015, the British government will allow driverless cars on Britain's roads. As part of this initiative, the government is looking closely at road conditions to ensure that they're ready for driverless cars. 

"Today’s announcement will see driverless cars take to our streets in less than six months, putting us at the forefront of this transformational technology and opening up new opportunities for our economy and society," says Vince Cable, the United Kingdom's business secretary

Three British cities will be selected to receive a portion of a £10 million ($17 million) competition to fund testing for driverless cars. Testing will last between 18 and 36 months. 

The UK's Department for Transport will conduct testing in two key areas of driverless car technology: fully autonomous cars that do not require drivers and cars with qualified drivers who could take control of the car, according to an official UK government release. The UK had previously pledged to begin testin driverless cars on public roads by the end of 2013, but did not end up following through on that plan. Driverless cars have thus far only been tested in the UK on "private land," according to the BBC

In an announcement, British government officials lauded the possibilities of driverless cars for improving driver safety, reducing road congestion, and lowering carbon emissions. 

"Britain is brilliantly placed to lead the world in driverless technology," says the UK's science minister Greg Clark. "It combines our strengths in cars, satellites, big data, and urban design; with huge potential benefits for future jobs and for the consumer."

But driverless cars have been on Americans' radar since Google first announced their self-driving car project in 2010. The technology uses a combination of sensors and computers that let the car shift and react to its environment in real-time, much the way human drivers sense and react to their surroundings.

In the proceeding years, US states have scrambled to regulate this new technology, with states such as California, Nevada, Florida, and Michigan, in addition to Washington, D.C., passing regulatory bills to handle the driverless cars. And while the cars are not yet ready for general consumer use, they have already "logged thousands of miles" in the streets of Mountain View, Calif., where Google is headquartered. 

More recently, Google announced in May that it plans to build 100 prototypes of a self-driving car that has no steering wheel and no brake or gas pedals. Instead, they will simply have buttons for go and stop. The cars will have a top speed of 25 m.p.h. 

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