The British town of Milton Keynes will get a fleet of 20 driverless cars by 2015, the UK's business secretary Vince Cable has said. The "pods" will carry up to two people, travel along special pathways, and reach a top speed of 12 miles per hour (19km/h). In 2017, the project — costing £1.5 million ($2.4 million) — will be expanded as the fleet rises to 100 self-driving pods. The plan is for these vehicles to share pathways with pedestrians and use sensors to avoid collisions.
The UK government has yet to reveal the specifications for the vehicles, but a mock-up video shows that passengers will be able to book them with a smartphone app, and that the pods themselves will be equipped with a screen that allows access to the internet, music, and other entertainment. The Guardian reports that the first route scheduled for the driverless cars will be between the town's railway station and a shopping center 20 minutes away on foot. A journey will likely cost around £2 ($3.20), but that figure will be subject to a study next year.
The Milton Keynes cars won't be the first driverless vehicles tested in the UK. Heathrow airport has a dedicated driverless taxi system, with white pods capable of holding four people traveling along a purpose-built road. Earlier this year, Robot Car UK tested a driverless version of a more traditional car — a modified electric Nissan Leaf — on private roads at its home in Oxfordshire.
The driverless vehicles won't be the first tested in the UK
Google has been pioneering driverless car technology in the United States, racking up 300,000 hours on the road. The British government signaled its intent to keep pace in July, releasing a policy paper that laid out a plan to test driverless cars in the UK by the end of this year. Alongside the unveiling of the Milton Keynes pods, Vince Cable also announced a £75 million ($120 million) fund for low carbon engines, saying ,"By 2050, very few — if any — new cars will be powered solely by the traditional internal combustion engines," and that the UK had to be at the forefront of that change.