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The UK is Training Self-driving Cars for a 320-km Trip


The HumanDrive project will send a self-driving car on a 320-km journey across Britain

A group of carmakers are partnering with British institutions to make a self-driving car tour the UK in a challenging 320-km trip, which will include countryside roads and high-speed roundabouts.

Christened the HumanDrive project, the effort will start with human drivers undertaking  the trip on driving simulators , in which they will meet a vast gamut of different weather and street conditions. The car’s machine learning system will be fed the human drivers’ mobility data and trained to complete the journey on its own in December 2019.

The project brings together carmakers Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi with Cranfield University, the University of Leeds, Highways England and government-backed organisation Transport Systems Catapult.

The aim of the project is preparing self-driving vehicles to get proficient at navigating Britain’s road system, in view of having driverless cars deployed on British soil by 2021— the deadline the government set last year.

“UK roads throw up some particular challenges. They are different from American roads, with roundabouts and demanding country lanes. These are really testing environments,” Transport Systems Catapult’s Chief Technology Officer Mark Westwood said in an interview with the BBC.

Most companies working on self-driving cars—including Alphabet’s Waymo, which is about to launch a driverless cab service in Arizona— have trained their vehicles on the wide, sunny highways of California and nearby states. Many experts think that US-trained vehicles could be unprepared to deal with different scenarios. (Russian IT giant Yandex, for instance, recently trialled its vehicles on a snowy Siberian motorway.)

“This project is about advancing the state of the art and trying to do something more demanding. The control system will learn to drive like a human,” Westwood added.

The HumanDrive project is  announced just as the UK launches its bid to claim the crown of Europe’s Artificial Intelligence hub, following an AI-focused speech by Prime Minister Theresa May last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The country is particularly keen to valorise its AI  talent and startup ecosystem — which it regards as a valuable asset, especially as the UK girds itself for leaving the European Union.

Images via Catapult



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