Raising Finance

Government to drive research into autonomous technology via £20m competition fund

4 min read

20 July 2015

By announcing a £20m fund designed to help businesses develop driverless cars and propose ideas for a code of practice, the government hopes to make Britain the destination of choice for manufacturers to test autonomous technology.

In February 2015, former business secretary Vince Cable headed a review which analysed the UK’s existing legal and regulatory framework for testing, producing and marketing automated vehicles. It paved the way for trial projects in Greenwich, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Coventry, which Cable claimed would ensure Britain remained the world leader in the automotive field. 

Tim Armitage, who is in charge of trialling driverless technology on British roads, explained that it had worked given that he had already been approached by two large global car manufacturers that wanted to conduct tests in the UK.

“The advantage of the UK is that testing can be done anywhere,” he said. “It could be a motorway trial, a dual-carriageway, or even a city-to-city type trial.”

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This contrasts with the US, where only four states permit such trials. Sweden has only permitted Volvo to conduct trials in 2017 on dedicated highways. This echoes Amazon approaching the government to test its drone service in the UK due to the US’ strict regulations.

Britain’s foray into the driverless field, according to research from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, would create 320,000 jobs by 2030. It would also deliver a £51bn boost to the economy and reduce serious accidents by more than 25,000 a year.

In order to capitalise on a market predicted to be worth £900bn by 2025, some £100m in investment was announced by chancellor George Osborne during the 2015 Budget. The latest £20m competitive fund unveiled on 19 July is the first part of the government’s plan for boosting innovation in the field.

The initiative, announced by business secretary Sajid Javid and transport minister Andrew Jones, aims to enable companies to research and develop driverless technology, as well as create ideas for a code of practice.

“To boost productivity the UK will need to capitalise on new technologies like driverless vehicles, and securing high skilled jobs for those who want to work hard and get on,” said Javid. “This would contribute to a more prosperous future for the the country. Our world-beating automotive industry, strengths in innovation and light touch regulatory approach to testing driverless technology combine to make the UK market competitive and an attractive destination for investors.”

See also: The UK's regulatory environment makes it the ideal centre for driverless technology

According to the government Britain has “some of the most challenging and diverse traffic, road and weather conditions in Europe and London is Europe’s only ‘Megacity’. This makes the UK the ideal centre for testing and developing these technologies”.

Driverless cars will bring great benefits to Britain’s society and economy, said transport minister Andrew Jones, who claimed that the country would be looking to work with industry to make the UK’s ambition of being the leader in driverless technology a reality.

The government wants bidders to put forward proposals in areas such as safety, reliability, how vehicles can communicate with each other and the environment around them, as well as how driverless vehicles can help give an ageing population greater independence. Successful bidders will match fund projects with their own money.