Robots to be let loose in the wild in the UK

I’ve commented before on how slow moving the transport policy sector is often in embracing the impact that driverless cars will have on transport. People love talking about transport infrastructure plans decades in the future, for example, but before the first piece of turf is cut on many of those future plans, the speed with which driverless cars are coming will have greatly changed the transport scene.

And if transport policymakers don’t grasp that change and help shape it in the right directions, then the change will be shaped simply by profit, random chance and technology enthusiasts. All three can turn up trumps, but it’s rather a big gamble to step aside and hope they do, especially in a sector with so many networked effects and externalities.

Which is why this embrace of innovation by the UK government is very welcome:

The UK’s first official robotics strategy, drawn up with help from the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), is calling for the establishment of real-world test sites over the next five+ years where robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) can be rigorously put through their paces…

The document calls for “defined and controlled spaces” test sites to be established where robotics can be trialled in the wild, as a stepping stone on the road to RAS technologies being deployed in the real world, alongside humans and other less smart machines.

“In many markets RAS technology will face regulatory hurdles. In others, gaining social acceptance may be the key to early adoption. Such barriers are best overcome by engaging with the customer and exposing innovation to the rigours of the real world, but this can only take place in real environments; laboratories are not enough,” the strategy notes.

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