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Milton Keynes unveils self-driving cars project

Milton Keynes will be the first town in the UK to see driverless cars on the streets. From 2015 the futuristic looking pods will be deployed on their own special lanes and will operate on paths used by pedestrians. The pods will have a maximum speed of just 12mph and will deploy sensors to avoid collisions. Business secretary, Vince Cable, has announced that a pilot scheme will see 20 of the cars in Milton Keynes' shopping centre by 2015.

Milton Keynes will be the first town in the UK to see driverless cars on the streets. From 2015 the futuristic looking pods will be deployed on their own special lanes and will operate on paths used by pedestrians. The pods will have a maximum speed of just 12mph and will deploy sensors to avoid collisions. Business secretary, Vince Cable, has announced that a pilot scheme will see 20 of the cars in Milton Keynes' shopping centre by 2015. The pods will carry a maximum of two people and will have screens to give passengers Internet access while they travel.

Mr Cable said: "By 2050, very few, if any, new cars will be powered solely by the traditional internal combustion engines, so it is important that the UK car industry is at the cutting edge of low-carbon technologies. Driverless cars are another invention that has the potential to generate the kind of high-skilled jobs we want Britain to be famous for, as well as cutting congestion and pollution and improving road safety."

Mr Cable made the announcement of the £1.5 million scheme while visiting Northampton. He also announced a separate £75 million fund to develop low-carbon engines. The pods have yet to be built but sketches of the potential design show a three wheel vehicle with transparent hatch to allow passengers to get in and out. Early estimates are that it will cost £2 per journey to use the vehicle but this will be confirmed nearer the launch date. The initial route will be to ferry passengers from the town's railway station to the shopping centre. This is an uphill journey of just over a mile and currently takes around 20 minutes on foot.

Driverless car technology is currently being trialled by a host of major manufacturers and in August Volvo tested a self driving car on British roads for the first time. In the USA, Google has racked up 400,000 miles on its version without incident. The model to be used in the Milton Keynes project has not been decided but the EN-V 'Bubble Car' by General Motors is an early front runner. The plans have been welcomed by Milton Keynes strategy director, Geoff Snelson, who said: "Locally the immediate reaction has been overwhelmingly interest and excitement. We've had questions about how it will work in practice but the initial response is people are very, very excited. We're hoping people will be queuing up to use the cars and will see it as a point of interest to come visit Milton Keynes."

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