The UK begins trials of its first driverless car. Julian Satterthwaite looks at how it will be used and asks how long it will be before they are everywhere.
Driverless cars are one step getting closer to hitting the roads in the UK. A government-backed project on Wednesday unveiling a pair of prototype vehicles. One is already ferrying passengers around the Millennium Dome in London. Part of the purpose of the trials is to address public concerns over safety. (SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS REPORTER, JULIAN SATTERTHWAITE, SAYING: "The vehicle coming towards me has absolutely no driver, yet it will nonetheless stop when it gets too close to me, hopefully. PAUSE It worked. Disconcerting, but it worked. " An array of sensors allows the car to avoid collisions. With 90 percent of crashes caused by driver error that could make a big difference. But to succeed, the electric vehicles also need to be easy to operate. Transport Research Laboratory director Nick Reed explained how to drive a driverless car. (SOUNDBITE) (English) TRANSPORT RESEARCH LABORATORY DIRECTOR, NICK REED, SAYING: "So to use the shuttle, the user would touch the screen and then select the destination, and pressing start the vehicle would safely, quietly and effectively move off, detecting any hazards around it, and take us to our chosen destination." Also unveiled was a smaller car that will soon go on trial in Milton Keynes, north of the capital. A computer animation shows it picking up and dropping off passengers. Ministers say the technology is closer to service than most people expect: (SOUNDBITE) (English) UK SECRETARY OF STATE FOR BUSINESS, INNOVATION AND SKILLS, VINCE CABLE, SAYING: "Within a couple of years Milton Keynes is already expecting a system to be up and running. These pilots themselves are actually quite advanced. Here in Greenwich the vehicle will be running through a residential area, picking up passengers, taking them to the underground station. " Driverless cars are undoubtedly coming. Much of the technology required is already here. If the planned trials prove they're safe, it may not be long before one of these becomes optional.