It’s hard to avoid news reports on the poor quality of air in London at the moment, with Mayor Sadiq Khan promising to introduce a £10 vehicle pollution charge from October 2017 for older and higher polluting cars that want to drive on the hallowed tarmac of central London. The ‘T Charge’ as it’s been billed – T for Toxicity.
Compounding the air pollution problems our large cities are facing is diesel. The fuel that so many were advised to switch to some time back, which of course is now a dirty (no pun intended) word when placed in a sentence along with the word ‘air’.
Diesel cars emit ten times more pollutants than petrol cars; that’s ten times more NOx (nitrogen oxides) released out through the exhaust. So why has this problem arisen? Well, as far back as 2009 when I worked at Nissan we were advising misinformed customers to buy a petrol car rather than a diesel car unless they were doing long, steady motorway journeys on a regular basis. A groundswell of thought that diesel was the future had been steadily growing and spreading to the press and some car salesmen.
So now for some good news: By pure chance (maybe), the noise being made against diesel pollutants and the quality of the air in our cities has coincided with the announcement that the UK Government has backed the go-ahead of a high profile driverless car trial in London. This is part of the Government’s planned £270million funding for ‘disruptive technologies’ – which includes self-drive cars – that was announced in the Budget.
The trials are not being scheduled for some time yet though, with autonomous cars likely being pencilled in for around 2019 giving a fair bit of planning time.
The Department for Business and Transport has given a Government-backed consortium £12.8million to develop a strategy that will allow self-drive cars to be given the green light to drive the streets of London.
The consortium consists of the Transport Research Laboratory, the University of Oxford, Transport for London, Direct Line and FiveAI, an artificial intelligence company based in Cambridge. The trial will consist of ten electric vehicles that will take the place of the regular cars of a group of commuters in South London.
Greenwich Shuttle Bus
Already ahead of this plan, a driverless shuttle bus trial in Greenwich begins in April for a 3 week extended trial. The 4-seater shuttle bus will transport about 100 people on a given route over the 3-week period and will be controlled by computer. A ‘watcher’ with the ability to override the computer will be on board to make sure everything runs safely and goes according to plan of course.
5 cameras and 3 lasers linked to the computer should mean that the shuttle bus stays on its course alongside the river in an area used by pedestrians and cyclists. Unlike a driverless car scheme, the shuttle bus will be limited to a maximum speed of 10mph – less than the speed of the average cyclist.
Although the Government has said that it wants to be at the forefront of new driverless tech, arguably the UK might actually be slightly lagging behind when it comes to autonomous vehicle technology in the real world. I first reported Google, Lexus and Volvo testing driverless cars as far back as 2014 and the UK Government allowing driverless cars on our roads from 2015.
It might well be the heightened awareness of inner city pollution caused by traffic that has given the autonomous car another welcome push forward in the UK.