Autonomous taxis could be on London’s streets as soon as 2021, if a partnership between car hire company Addison Lee and software firm Oxbotica goes according to plan.
Addison Lee says the two companies will work together to digitally map public roads in the capital, with an aim of deploying self-driving taxis within three years.
The mapping will chart the positions of kerbs, traffic lights and road signs across 250,000 miles (402,336 km) inside and around London.
The firm has said that even though the technology could allow for autonomous pick-ups, its 5,000 drivers in London will remain employed.
“Our […] drivers in the UK are going to carry on doing what they are doing,” said Andy Boland, chief executive of Addison Lee. “For the foreseeable future I would draw that distinction between premium services, and technology opening those other sorts of services at a relevant price point.”
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However, he also noted that a driverless fleet could be cheaper to operate over time: “There are cost savings in the medium term, from maximising asset utilisation.”
Boland said the partnership could lead to shared, autonomous minibuses for passengers to use to get to and from work, and that this could «address congestion, free space used for parking and improve urban air quality».
The self-driving sector could be worth £28 billion a year by 2035. Three years may sound like an ambition timeframe to rollout an autonomous fleet, but London wouldn’t be the first city to do so. There are plans in Japan to deploy self-driving taxis in time for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Earlier this year, a trial involving Oxbotica in Greenwich tested people’s reactions to autonomous shuttles travelling at slow-moving speeds – topping out at 5.5mph.