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Britain’s First Driverless Car Stays on the Sidewalk

The car’s 15 mile-per-hour speed limit keeps things safe

Not the new self-driving car (Marnie Burkhart/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

The tiny Lutz Pathfinder , a Union Jack–patterned pod-like vehicle, just claimed the title as the U.K.’s first driverless car. Junnie Kwon for Popular Science reports that the two-seater, designed by Transport Systems Catapult, can only get up to about 15 miles per hour and is meant to stay on sidewalks. An Uber-like app in the future will let people hail one of the pods should they need a ride. 

Kwon writes:

It has 19 sensors, including touch-sensitive strips, lasers, radar, and panoramic cameras. Inside, there are two screens: one informs the rider about the car’s journey, and the other is for entertainment. Behind the seats is the power system, which has about the same strength as two high-end gaming computers.

The little pod may seem modest, but it represents big plans: "The government want the U.K. to become a world leader in driverless technology," according to the BBC. They’ll have some catching up to do to meet or beat Google’s self-driving cars, though. And Uber, with support from Google, has been investing in robotics, with the intention of making their service even cheaper with robotic taxis.

But the U.K. government is keen on having its own go at this techonology: Guidelines to allow testing of the technology on U.K. roads and potentially revamps of some regulations are coming, the BBC reports. The government is also putting about $29 million toward the launch of four driverless car systems in four locations. 

Lizzie Dearden for the Independent writes:

Ministers will be in Greenwich, London, to see Gateway’s self-driving passenger shuttles in action today, while autonomous Lutz 'pods' will be going around public areas in Milton Keynes and Coventry. The BAE Wildcat, a modified military jeep developed by the aerospace company, will be trialled in Bristol. 

They may be a few iterations away from taking over the roads, but for now at least, fully-functional self-driving cars are winning the cuteness awards.

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