Most of the major car manufacturers, scientists and even Google are trying to develop functional self-driving cars, in an attempt to hopefully reduce the rate of accidents caused by human error.

Partial self-driving models have already been tested, and UK authorities are ready to move forward: autonomous cars will be tested on public British roads by the end of the year. The move is part of a wider investment plan meant to reduce congestion on British roads.

Autonomous Cars on UK Roads by Year-End

Until now, autonomous vehicles have only been tested on private land in the United Kingdom. The public road tests will be conducted by the Oxford University’s Mobile Robotics Group, which has succeeded in adapting a Nissan Leaf vehicle for self-driving mode.

According to a government paper cited by the BBC, the trials will be held on suburban or rural roads that are less busy, in order to lower the risks of accidents in case of malfunction.

The vehicles will not be 100% self-driving, but will rather work in a semi-autonomous mode. A back-up driver will ride along during all the tests and will be able to take control of the vehicle at any moment if it is necessary.

The autonomous cars that will be tested will be guided by a complex system of stereo cameras and sensors based on laser scanners. The system, also equipped with the ability to learn frequently driven routes, is deemed as more efficient and potentially safer than regular cars.

Self-driving vehicles were already tested extensively in three U.S. states – California, Florida and Nevada, which have also passed legislation on the matter. In the private sector, Google is leading the way as its converted Toyota Prius fleet crossed over 300,000 miles during public road testing.

Major car makers are also planning to build autonomous cars rather than convert existing models, which will make the technology available to the general public sooner. If the current pace is maintained, self-driving vehicles are likely to become commercially available within the next ten years.

So we may still be a long way from having fully functional autonomous vehicles that will carry us to work while we enjoy a cup of coffee and read the newspaper without having to worry about the road. But we’re definitely getting there. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

[Image via wired]