New record set for UK driverless car and what this means for people with disabilities

A Nissan LEAF all-electric vehicle, equipped with all the Colour photo of the Nissan Leaf car out on the roadnecessary sensors and systems for full autonomous driving, has just set a new UK record journey of 230 miles across our uniquely challenging mix of roads and traffic – signifying just how viable these technologies are for everyone who either wants or needs to be driven autonomously.

A road trip with a difference

A self-driven car has completed a 230-mile self-navigated journey across the UK, making it the longest and most complex autonomous journey on UK roads. The Nissan LEAF car drove unassisted from their technical centre in Cranfield, Bedfordshire, to the Nissan factory in Sunderland. 

The journey included a number of different road types; including motorways, complex roundabouts and high-speed country lanes with no road markings, white lines or kerbs. For those of us still thinking of autonomous driving as being some sort of glorified cruise control to keep us a safe distance behind the car in front, combined with a lane-keeping capability that requires well-marked roads, think again.

Colour photo of the Nissan Leaf car
Photo source: Nissan

Two engineers were on-board, monitoring the vehicle's actions at all times, but the self-driving tech (GPS, radar, ‘light detection and ranging’ – LIDAR - and camera technologies) meant that the car was able to change lanes, merge, stop and start as necessary. It even stopped at several service stations along the way to recharge its batteries.

Colour photo of a Nissan engineer in the Nissan Leaf carClose up of the Nissan Leaf's navigation screen
Photo source: Nissan

Bringing true diversity to driving

As a blind person, I couldn’t be more excited by news stories such as this. The arrival of driverless vehicles to UK streets is inevitable and within our lifetimes – maybe even within this decade. The technology is moving apace – all we really need now is the legislation which, unless it releases the handbrake soon, won’t be in place before the tech is fully baked and ready for our roads.

I’ve written many times about the power of a personalised on-demand driverless future and what it will mean for people for whom jumping behind the wheel isn’t an option today.

Whether you’re able to drive today or, conversely, have no inclination ever to learn or own a car, or you have a disability or impairment that means that passing your test will never be on the cards, we’ll certainly have options when it comes to the road transport of tomorrow. 

This new record is a very tangible illustration of the viability of this tech - and so let’s hope it helps accelerate the wheels of legislation and public acceptance on the road to a greener, more inclusive future for all of us.

A bit more about the project

The vehicle and its impressive road trip was part of the HumanDrive project; jointly funded by the UK government through the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and Innovate UK, along with nine other consortium partners.

"The HumanDrive project allowed us to develop an autonomous vehicle that can tackle challenges encountered on UK roads that are unique to this part of the world, such as complex roundabouts and high-speed country lanes with no road markings, white lines or kerbs." - Bob Bateman, Project Manager for Nissan Technical Centre, Europe.

Business Minister, Nadhim Zahawi said: “Safely completing the longest autonomous drive in Britain is an incredible achievement for Nissan and the HumanDrive consortium, and a huge step towards the rollout of driverless cars on UK streets. This project is a shining example of how the automotive industry, working with government, can drive forward technology to benefit people’s mobility - while helping to slash carbon emissions.”

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