As U.S. ponders automated autos, U.K. green-lights driverless car test

England to see the first tests of automated vehicles later in the year while White House pledges to "get this right" from policy standpoint.

Charles Cooper Former Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
Charles Cooper
2 min read
The Google self-driving car maneuvers through the streets of Washington. Getty Images

No longer the realm of science fiction, the future of driverless cars is getting serious attention from policy makers on both sides of the Atlantic.

As the White House offered its latest talking points on automated autos, the U.K. government has released plans to start testing driverless vehicles by the end of this year.

UK Department for Transport

By the year 2040, the report paints a picture of a world chockablock with "semiautonomous" and "autonomous" vehicles that communicate both with road infrastructure as well as with each other. "This means that we are potentially on the verge of a great change in the way that we use the roads, and in the way that roads affect our economy and quality of life."

The first tests will be carried out by Oxford University researchers working with Nissan to help create semiautonomous cars. During the tests, the vehicles will include someone who can take over at the wheel in a pinch, but the cars otherwise "will be capable of driving fully independently."

For its part, the U.S. government hasn't gone to the same lengths, though the White House is making all the right noises about its interest in the evolution of the technology. On Tuesday, for instance, one of its advisers, R. David Edelman, told a gathering of engineers and policy planners attending a weeklong workshop on automated cars that "there is no room in the White House big enough to house all the people working on this issue." He added: "From the standpoint of the White House [it is] so important we get this right from the policy standpoint."

How soon and how big will this be? The estimates are still all over the board. Take it for what it's worth, but earlier this month, one technology analyst, Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray, put out a report where he estimated that autonomous vehicle technology will be a $200 billion market. Idle time in traffic alone costs some $121 billion in productive time and fuel, according to Munster.