A two and a half year development process saw a collection of test cars complete short runs on pre-programmed routes through Stratford, in East London.
The Ford Mondeo test vehicles were capable of level 4 autonomy, which means that the cars took full control, without human intervention, even though a human was on hand behind the wheel at all times, ready to intervene when necessary.
The general public were allowed to be passengers in the self-driving cars during the week-long trial as they made their way around Stratford’s streets.
The Department for Transport’s self-driving trial guidelines require “a driver or operator, in or out of the vehicle, who is ready, able, and willing to resume control of the vehicle”.
Due to the demands and unpredictability of driving in a megacity, the driver had to be on hand to intervene when a pedestrian walked into the road.
DRIVEN, the autonomous vehicle technology consortium claims the tests showed “autonomous vehicles can operate smoothly, safely and legally in complex real-life situations” and “exceeding the initial plan in terms of complexity and achievement”.
While the government has said it wants fully self-driving vehicles on UK roads by 2021, it’s unclear if the autonomous technology will be mature enough by then to be used on a day-to-day basis.
Industry experts argued in 2019 the UK’s autonomous ambitions were being held back by pot hole-riddled roads and poor 4G connectivity, and in 2018 a self-driving tech consortium said motorists may need to pass “a new type of driving test” before getting behind the wheel of an autonomous car.
Despite the setbacks, some car companies are intent on ensuring their vehicles will have self-driving capabilities by the UK government’s 2021 target. Volvo has said it expects to launch its first autonomous vehicles within the next two years, and Tesla chairman Elon Musk claims his company could start selling cars without steering wheels or pedals as early as 2021.