A driverless car is set to undertake theÂ “most complex autonomously controlled journey” ever attempted in the UK, a 200 mile route with many features unique to driving British roads.
The HumanDrive project, a collaboration between Nissan, Highways England,Â Groupe Renault,Â Mitsubishi, Cranfield University, Transport Systems Catapult and others, will simulate a range of challenging UK driving conditions before the car begins its 200 mile journey in December 2019.
The route will take in winding country lanes, A-roads, high-speed roundabouts and motorways, which are very different to the US roads many driverless cars have been trained on.
Driverless, self-driving or autonomous cars are all capable of navigating roads free from human intervention thanks to advanced control systems which work in conjunction with lasers, radars and cameras.
Currently in the UK, no car is allowed to drive on public roads without a human to grab the wheel and take control at any time.
“UK roads throw up some particular challenges. They are different from American roads, with roundabouts and demanding country lanes. These are really testing environments,”Â Mark Westwood, chief technology officer of the Transport Systems Catapult, told the BBC.
“This project is about advancing the state of the art and trying to do something more demanding. The control system will learn to drive like a human.”
HumanDrive will collect data from human drivers in a simulation at Leeds University, on private test tracks and on a small selection of public roads before undertaking the route next year.
US companies Google and Tesla have been leading the charge towards autonomous vehicles, while Apple confirmed it was working on its own driverless systems in 2016.
Ride hailing app Uber is developing its own fleet of driverless vehicles, while traditional automakers Ford, BMW and Audi are working on their own.
The UK government has set the ambitious target of having the first fully-driverless cars on full use on UK roads by 2021.
However, many obstacles still remain in the form of poor infrastructure for driverless technologies across the UK, particularly in remote areas. Many of the UK’s roads are also in need of repair before autonomous cars can drive on them.
“Highways England sees the potential benefits of greater automation of vehicles to deliver improved safety and increased mobility,” saidÂ Mike Wilson, executive director for safety, engineering and standards at Highways England.
“We will be working closely with our HumanDrive partners on the plans for the on-road testing. We will be taking the research and development of the Nissan vehicle to map how the introduction of such an autonomous vehicle can shape the future of our roads, in terms of safety, emissions, journey times and capacity.”