PRIVATE CAR HIRE company Addison Lee reckons Britain's streets will be ready for driverless cars by the year 2021. Well some streets, anyway: London's.
The company has signed a deal with Oxbotica, which will soon begin to map some 250,000 miles of public roads to get an overall picture of every traffic feature: its own version of ‘the Knowledge'. And yes, it will take you south of the river at this time of night.
While it stands to reason that the 5,000 drivers employed by Addison Lee would see this as a three-year countdown clock to get their CVs in order, the company claims that they will remain employed. Rather, the firm suggests that the first steps of the autonomous future might be a cheaper ride-sharing version, for corporate shuttles to campuses or to deliver travellers to airports, rather than replacing current drivers.
"Our 5,000 drivers in the UK are going to carry on doing what they are doing," said Andy Boland, Chief Executive of Addison Lee. "For the foreseeable future I would draw that distinction between premium services, and technology opening those other sorts of services at a relevant price point."
Still, if this is the way the wind is generally blowing, the term "foreseeable future" might not prove to be too reassuring. Globally speaking, the UK is slightly behind the times with self-driving cars, with Tokyo set to get a fleet in time for the 2020 Olympic games.
The big question remains how people feel about driverless vehicles. While the stats seem to back machines as being far safer than squishy, fallible, human drivers, there's still an inherent fear of letting something without eyes take the wheel. As a result, every self-driving car incident gets pored over in excruciating detail - even when mile for mile, they are far rarer than regular human-led traffic accidents.
But who knows how things will change when they're everywhere and mainstream? It's possible people will take more risks on the roads when they think their fellow computer commuters are programmed to stop at short notice… µ
A hard pill to swallow
Right on schedule, sort of
Other drivers also had deep access to system guts
Plus BBC Sounds on Sky and Now TV