By Michael Moore
The U.K. government has announced a major investment, which it hopes will ensure the United Kingdom remains a leader in developing driverless cars.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid has revealed a £20m windfall for the industry as part of efforts to put the United Kingdom at the forefront of a market that is expected to be worth £900 billion by 2025.
As part of the investment, the Department for Transport and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) have established a new joint policy unit called the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (C-CAV), which will co-ordinate government policy on driverless cars and connected technology.
The government now wants bidders to put forward proposals in areas such as safety, reliability, how vehicles can communicate with each other and the environment around them and how driverless vehicles can help give an aging population greater independence.
The £20 million in funding, which will need to be matched by the successful bidders, forms part of the £100 million for research into intelligent mobility announced by the chancellor in the Spring 2015 budget.
"Driverless cars will bring great benefits to our society and economy and I want the U.K. to lead the way in developing this exciting technology," said Transport Minister Andrew Jones. "Our code of practice clearly shows that the U.K. is in the best position when it comes to testing driverless cars and embracing the motoring of the future. We now look forward to working with industry to make this a reality."
The government also revealed that the work of the C-CAV is already underway, with the body already investigating a range of new technological developments. This includes plans to test new roadside communication technology to improve traffic flow and safety through 'connected corridors', providing drivers with useful journey and safety information.
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"To boost productivity Britain will need to capitalize on new technologies like driverless vehicles, securing high skilled jobs for those who want to work hard and get on, and contributing to a more prosperous future for the whole of the country," added Javid.
"Our world beating automotive industry, strengths in innovation and light touch regulatory approach to testing driverless technology combine to make the U.K. market competitive and an attractive destination for investors."
The investment marks a significant step-forward in government policy on connected cars, which in March seemed to hit a new low when findings from the Commons transport committee said that the United Kingdom was a long way from being able to support driverless cars.
However Britain's industries are understandably keen to promote the new technology, with a recent KPMG report predicting that connected and autonomous cars will create 320,000 U.K. jobs and save thousands of lives over the next few years, alongside delivering "huge benefits to society and the economy."
This includes delivering a £51 billion boost to the U.K. economy and a massive reduction in serious road traffic accidents, which could fall by more than 25,000 a year by 2030.