London's Driverless Future

It only took five radars, four lasers and 12 cameras for the electric driverless prototype Nissan Leaf to follow a planned route along the A13 dual carriageway, at 50 m/h, and some urban streets last week in East London.

This was the first ever test of this kind done in the streets of London. The results were quite striking since the driver only had to gain control twice to avoid other careless drivers’ neglects.Once he set on the right path again, pressing the button “enter” was all he had to do to restore self-driving. The perfect navigation around the roundabouts and the perfect control at the zebra crossing meant another two reasons for the Japanese carmaker to call the test a success.

These good road safety records, for sure, will help the 65% of British motorists who, according to a LSE survey think that “machines don’t have the common sense needed to interact with human drivers”, to change their minds, or those 83% who also think that “driverless cars could malfunction” to do the same.

Another survey, however, by Auto Trader informs that 60% of Londoners are interested in self-driven cars.

The current exhibition Driverless Futures: Utopia and Dystopia at the London Transport Museum precisely examines the impact that these vehicles will have in our lives in the capital, imagining the pros and cons of a not-so-far future in 2050, when self-driven cars will be everywhere.   

Some think that electric robot cars will steal their jobs, others that they will become a hazard for the blind or partially sighted. There are those who think that they will make people lazier and, what is even worse, they will kill the high street as retailers will deliver online shopping using these cars, the Evening Standard reported. On the positive side, however, the paper points out that autonomous robots could replace guide dogs, child buggies and even street cleaners with their technology, cutting pollution levels down.

London and British authorities are indeed joining efforts to make the driverless future a reality, hoping to grab a slice of an industry which could be worth £900 billion by 2025.

Two key decisions attest this.  

The first one refers to all the facilities given by Transport for London to conduct the Leaf’s test, making it the first of this kind in a European capital.

The second one relates to the new British legislation to allow for a single insurance policy to cover motorists driving conventionally and in autonomous mode.

Though different carmakers are testing different models all over the world teaming up with IT firms, the especial value of the Leaf’s London test, near the Olympic Park, perhaps,  rests on Nissan’s aim to use its first driverless cars as cabs in Tokyo 2020 just in time for the Games.