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House of Lords: Drone vehicles are more than just robo-cars, mmkay

Sort out Blighty's not-spots and let industry do its thing, peers urge

By Gareth Corfield, 16 Mar 2017

Autonomous vehicles are more than just cars, the House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee has warned the UK government in a report, as it urges greater focus on boats and farming equipment.

“The development of CAV [connected and autonomous vehicles] across different sectors needs coordination and the Government, working with key stakeholders, must get a grip on this,” thundered the report’s authors.

Criticising the lack of “clear central coordination of strategy or information sharing across the different sectors that could benefit from CAV technology,” the report’s (online here, or in PDF format) authors say it was written to encourage the government to “to stop and think about these potential changes” that CAV technology will bring to people’s lives.

The Lords said that CAV “have the potential to increase accessibility and mobility for those less mobile or those unable to use traditional vehicles, such as the elderly or disabled.” They warned that further investment “in the fundamental scientific research ... that underpins autonomous cars and other CAV” should be driven by industry rather than government.

Despite that, the report’s authors urged the government to put together a government-sponsored test facility, as well as doing more work to attract CAV “manufacturers and academics to the UK.”

In addition, the report urged UK.gov folk to “improve digital connectivity. This can be done through the Digital Economy Bill and the implementation of the Universal Service Obligation to create a ubiquitous digital network,” it said, perhaps optimistically.

Professor Nick Reed, technical lead for the Transport Research Laboratory’s autonomous car project in Greenwich, south-east London, said in a canned statement: “CAVs are developing in two distinct ways: fully automated vehicles operating in increasingly sophisticated environments, and vehicles in which automated systems take responsibility for greater parts of the task at hand, whether that be driving, harvesting crops or delivering parcels. The opportunity for CAVs is almost endless; there are so many sectors where they can have an immediate and positive impact.”

The government has not yet responded to the report, whose authors comprised peers from all political parties.

Locals in the borough have been experiencing autonomous parcel deliveries by small drones that resemble coolboxes on wheels, as well as the chance to roll around the outside of the O2 Centre (once known as the Millennium Dome) in self-driving cars – albeit supervised by a human driver. ®

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