A glimpse of the driverless future

The prototype technology was launched at UWE last year

For the past 12 months the academics and business leaders have been quietly beavering away on the logistics, technology, legal and insurance questions. Now they have revealed the pod which will be the first driverless car to hit Bristol’s streets, sometime in summer 2017.

A Glimpse Of The Driverless Future

Hold on you may say – ‘I’ve seen that car at Heathrow and aren’t Google doing sometime similar?’

Well yes and no. Venturer say they are doing things very different. For a start the airport pods (incidentally designed at Bristol University) run on a pre-programmed route so they are not in that sense fully autonomous.

Granted there has been a lot of excitement after Google unveiled its prototype but this is one type of technology; Venturer and the other UK consortium’s says they are considering a range of different technologies and the wider legal and insurance implications. So now, year after Venturer’s launch, the project is about to shift up a gear. They’ve been given 5m to research the technology and they came together this week at Williams F1 Advanced Engineering HQ, just outside Wantage, to show just how they’ve been spending it.

A Glimpse Of The Driverless Future

The pod is not quite the sort of supercar Williams Advance Engineering are used to unveiling

If a formula one company seems a strange place for the launch of a driverless pod consider this; not only are the company part of Venturer but, as managing director Craig Wilson points out, the company considers driver safety paramount. As a result of a car accident in in 1986 founder Frank Williams suffered spinal injuries and was left a tetraplegic. “As a result,” says Wilson, “we are very conscious of road safety…and improving road safety.”

Handing over control of your car to a computer may seem a safety paradox, but research has found that human error is a factor in more than 90% of deaths and injuries on our roads. With the pods programmed to obey all traffic laws and removing ‘boy racers’ from the equation, safety has been touted as one of the big selling points of the driverless car.

A Glimpse Of The Driverless Future

However, getting the public to trust the technology is crucial. There have already been questions raised over the safety of the system from hackers[1] and, if bus drivers, taxis and lorry drivers were replaced by computers, then a whole job sector may be under threat . Professor Graham Parkhurst, director of Centre for Transport and Society says the technology could change the job market: “There is the big questions around jobs and, ultimately with all big changes, there are winners and losers.

“A number of driving jobs may not be necessary however, at the same time, this sector may create jobs and these may be higher value jobs so, providing we can up skill our workforce, then there should be good opportunities as well.”

This is one of the many factors that will be considered over the remaining two years of the project. Another huge area which is being considered by the project are insurance and legal implications.

A Glimpse Of The Driverless Future

“We have to look at innovation,” says Stephen Hilton director of futures at Bristol City Council

Eventually it could mean the end of driving licences, changed perceptions of car ownership, increased access for the elderly, disables and young, and possible improvement in air quality and reduction in congestion. Importantly, while it could be another 15 years before you see driverless cars on Bristol’s roads, the project is already laying the groundwork for positioning Bristol as a technological centre of excellence, working in partnership with the pioneering Bristol is Open project[2].

Stephen Hilton is adamant that we need to consider the reality of our transport system in the future: “We cannot get more cars onto the road and we have to look at innovation in the transport system – things that allow the sharing of vehicles allowing the people of Bristol to get around more efficiently.

“If we don’t pave the way for that now then we will miss an opportunity to be at the forefront. This is about positioning Bristol as one of the first cities to benefit from efficiency that that technology will bring.”

Read more: The revolution happening beneath our streets[3]


  1. ^ hackers (www.youtube.com)
  2. ^ Bristol is Open project (social.shorthand.com)
  3. ^ The revolution happening beneath our streets (social.shorthand.com)

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