U.K. to Launch Driverless Car Trials in January

U.K. officials are calling for proposals from cities that would like to be among potentially three to host driverless car trials beginning in January.

connected car

The British government announced a competition July 30, asking cities to put forward proposals to be among potentially three cities to host driverless car trials beginning in January 2015. The cities will be able to share roughly $17 million, and the trials are expected to last between 18 and 36 months.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said that scientists and engineers, running pilot projects, have established the United Kingdom as a "pioneer" in the driverless car market.

"Today's announcement will see driverless cars take to our streets in less than six months, putting us at the forefront of this transformational technology and opening up new opportunities for our economy and society," Cable continued, in a statement.

The Department for Transport and the Department for Business—hosts of the competition—expect the proposals to include local government and private sector efforts and funding.

"Proposals must be collaborative and business-led," states a summary of rules on the registration site. "Consortia must include a local authority partner and may also include other businesses and research organizations. Business partners must incur at least 70 percent of the total eligible project costs."

Registration for the competition will close Sept. 24, and the competition itself will close Oct. 1.

"Britain is brilliantly placed to lead the world in driverless technology," Science Minister Greg Clark said in a statement. "It combines our strength in cars, satellites, big data and urban design, with huge potential benefits for future jobs and for the consumer."

Alongside the competition, UK Ministers have launched a review of current automotive regulations to determine the "appropriate regime" for testing driverless vehicles. The review will consider vehicles that allow a qualified person, in the driver seat, to easily take over, as well as fully autonomous vehicles.

Safer Driving, New Concerns

Ministers in the UK, like automakers around the world, have cited a long list of potential benefits that could come with driverless cars. These include fewer crashes and traffic jams and a reduction in pollution. Automakers also anticipate that smarter cars can keep travelers safer; Volvo, for instance, has vowed that by 2020, no one will be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo.

But the technology introduces new concerns, largely around security.

The FBI has investigated the possibilities of driverless cars being used as getaway cars or "lethal weapons," the Guardian reported July 16, citing a highly restricted internal FBI report.

Steve Durbin, with the Information Security Forum, has shared with eWEEK the ISF's concerns that even just connected cars—cars with wireless capabilities—can be hacked into and controlled, or tracked to intercept valuable cargo or a passenger of note. The full positive impact of driverless vehicles will come when they're able to communicate with city infrastructure and other vehicles—to alert the driver or the vehicle to breaking ahead, for example, or to an available parking spot.

At a BlackBerry Security Summit July 30, Dan Dodge, CEO of BlackBerry QNX, software running in more than 250 vehicle models, spoke of the need to secure connections and identities, particularly as more and new items are given online identities.

"People have been able to hijack a car—open the door, start the engine—remotely," Dodge said matter-of-factly. "I mean, refrigerators are being turned into botnets to perform denials of service, and oil rigs are being attacked with malware."

He went on to make the point that in order to be effective in a connected world, security has to be easy to use and to deploy.