The UK milestones for a driverless future

FT subscribers can click here to receive tech news daily by email in the #techFT newsletter The star of the current “Driverless” exhibition at London’s Science Museum is a specially modified Citroen, packed with computing technology in the back seat, which can self-drive at up to 130km/h, aided by sensors that detect a magnetic field under the road. It was road-tested as recently as 1960.

This veteran vehicle with autonomous pretensions serves as a reminder that predicting the imminent arrival of a driverless era — as Elon Musk has done for Tesla cars, 60 years on, by 2020 — is maybe being over-optimistic.

Google’s Waymo and leading carmakers have been dampening expectations of an impending autonomous age and a UK road map for self-driving vehicles, unveiled today at a news conference at the museum, sets a date for significant numbers on Britain’s roads by 2030, subject to change. The UK Connected and Automated Mobility Roadmap, published by Zenzic, a body set up by the government and industry to co-ordinate self-driving efforts “starts to introduce objectivity and remove all of the hype that has been in the past”, said Zenzic chief executive Daniel Ruiz.  The map, the first of its kind in the world, is more of a project-management chart with years as milestones and multiple strands tieing together how services, infrastructure, vehicle technology, the regulatory framework and consumer and business acceptance are expected to come together to make our autonomous future a reality.

Of the more than 500 milestones, regulations, standards and legislation can be seen as the most critical enablers for the development, trialling and deployment of self-driving technologies and services, with licensing of vehicles, safety standards and the creation of a digital “Highway Code” being key. The business case for autonomous vehicles is still unproven and consumers have yet to be won over, but the map has 2025 as a tipping point, where, with advances in vehicle licensing, insurance “and a tidal change in desirability in the public eye, we expect to see more commercial passenger services emerging”. In other words, it will be just like waiting for a London bus.

The Internet of (Five) Things

1.

Pronto.ai boss pledges to deliver to truckers
Pronto.ai is in the camp of driverless vehicles being some way off and its first product CoPilot provides Level 2 (of 5) assistance to truck drivers, using cameras and predictive analytics software to help with lane-keeping, cruise control and emergency braking. The man who took over last week from Anthony Levandowski, its founder and chief executive, after he was charged on 33 counts of theft or attempted theft from Google, has been insisting to Patrick McGee that it will still meet its deadlines to launch the tech. 2.

Shareholders have appetite for rival Just Eat bid 
A top 10 shareholder in Just Eat has said it will vote against the food-ordering company’s planned GBP9bn merger with Takeaway.com, as investors hold out for a higher bid. Eminence Capital, the New York-based hedge fund that holds more than 4 per cent of Just Eat, said Takeaway.com’s offer was “highly opportunistic” and a “gross undervaluation” of the UK-based online food marketplace. Analysts have speculated that Just Eat could become a target for other delivery players including DoorDash, Amazon or Naspers.  3.

Online move by chess world champion
Magnus Carlsen’s company Play Magnus has bought the UK-based chess training platform Chessable.com, in a move that marks the Grandmaster’s latest attempt to conquer the lucrative world of online chess. The deal, for an undisclosed price, comes just months after the March merger of the Norwegian player’s company with online chess platform Chess24.com, which streams tournaments and connects players with online opponents from around the world. 4.

Cleaning up internet sewage
For years now, users have been chucking chamber pots of informational filth into cyber space with no respect for public hygiene. Little surprise that the internet has turned into a political and social health hazard, writes John Thornhill, who compares the task at hand to the Victorian need to build a sewage system to tackle London’s Great Stink. The web’s version could reward those who publish socially valuable information and squeeze those who promote viral misinformation, with companies like Factmata looking to create a new metric for the advertising industry that includes content quality, not just virality.

5.

Biohackers copy £1m drug
Citing the tremendous cost of new drugs, an international group of biohackers say they are creating a knock-off of a million-dollar gene therapy, reports MIT’s Technology Review. The drug being copied is Glybera, a gene therapy that was the world’s most expensive drug when it came on the market in Europe in 2015 with a price tag of £1m per treatment. The prototype gene therapy developed by the biohackers cost less than £7,000 to create, but there are safety concerns.

Tech tools — Samsung’s square smartphone

Samsung’s second foldable device, due to be unveiled early next year, will be a luxury phone that folds down into a compact-sized square, according to Bloomberg.

The device will have a 6.7-inch inner display that shrinks to a pocketable square when it’s folded inward like a clamshell, according to its sources.

It would be more affordable and thinner than this year’s Galaxy Fold (pictured above), which Samsung is planning to relaunch after resolving problems with its screen.

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