Members of the public could be able to summon driverless cars in two years’ time after the government backed a consortium looking to test the technology in London.
The Departments for Business and Transport have handed the group £12.8m to research and develop self-driving technology ahead of a trial in the capital.
FiveAI, a Cambridge-based artificial intelligence firm, is developing the trial with Direct Line, the University of Oxford, Transport for London and the Transport Research Laboratory.
It plans to demonstrate a fully-working driverless car system, including the ability to order rides with a smartphone app, and insurance and safety protocols, in the third quarter of 2019. Stan Boland, the chief executive of FiveAI, said it would use around 10 electric cars, with the trial in South London intended to replace commuters who drive to work.
The Government has made research into driverless cars a pillar of its industrial strategy, saying it wants to ensure the UK is at the forefront of the new technology.
FiveAI, a start-up based in Cambridge, plans to raise further money privately and grow from around 20 staff currently to 120 in the next two years. It has already been testing autonomous vehicles on private land and expects to graduate to rural roads before addressing more complex urban situations.
Mr Boland, a former chief executive of Acorn Computers who has sold previous businesses to Broadcom and Nvidia, said driverless cars would eventually come close to replacing car ownership.
“It’s about delivering to the consumer an autonomous Uber-type service in London,” he said. “Its insane for people to buy a car and then leave it parked for 94pc of the time and only have one user per car, in the future vehicles can be shared.”
The project is just one of a number of attempts to test driverless vehicles in the UK. Nissan is currently trialling autonomous vehicles in London, while a self-driving shuttle is open to members of the public in Greenwich.
Mr Boland said the company was capable of developing autonomous driving technology despite the existence of technology giants such as Google and Uber as competition because of the abundance of artificial intelligence and computer vision experts at British universities.