We talk a lot about the changes that autonomous cars will bring to the road. But what often gets left out of the discussion is how autonomous cars will upend the auto industry -- how they'll shift the balance of power between America, Europe, and Asia, and what they'll mean for thousands upon thousands of human beings who've been trained to build and repair our automobiles.
Officials in the United Kingdom are trying to address such concerns today, before the shift takes place. According to a press release from the U.K. government, Business Secretary Vince Cable has just announced a fund of £75 million ($119,940,000 U.S.) to "enable businesses to make and test low carbon technologies that will keep the UK at the forefront of engine design and help safeguard up to 30,000 jobs in engine production".
That fund will be overseen by the Advanced Propulsion Centre and administered as a sort of Google X program for advanced-tech engines. Investment in the fund is expected to grow significantly over the years, reaching an estimated £1 billion ($1,599,200,000 U.S.) over the next decade.
The government has high hopes for the fund, but some of the chief goals include:
The first project to receive support from the special APC fund is a £1.5 initiative designed to create two-person transportation "pods" that will circulate throughout the city of Milton Keynes in Northampton, beginning in 2015. They'll be located in the heavily pedestrian city center, and though the initial batch of vehicles will be driven by humans, follow-ups will be completely autonomous: "It is planned that in 2015, an initial batch of 20 pods will be driver-operated and will run on lanes separated from pedestrians. By mid 2017, 100 pods that are fully autonomous will be running on pathways alongside people and will use sensors to avoid obstacles."
In announcing the project, Cable added, "By 2050, very few -- if any -- new cars will be powered solely by the traditional internal combustion engines, so it is important that the UK car industry is at the cutting edge of low carbon technologies. The Advanced Propulsion Centre, launched as part of our Industrial Strategy, will help to position the UK as a leading innovator while securing jobs and strengthening supply chains."
Combined with the Japanese prime minister's ride in an autonomous Nissan Leaf over the weekend, this makes two very loud and proud announcements of government support for self-driving cars. When will the U.S. signal such strong support? We can't say for sure, but we might see some movement on that front at the upcoming auto shows in Los Angeles, Detroit, and New York.
For more on the U.K. fund and the "pod" project, check out the (weirdly silent) demo video above and this article at Motor Authority.