Cars use sensor system to ensure safe distances from other cars and objects on the road.
The UK is on track (sorry) to test driverless cars by the end of this year. According to the BBC, trials of autonomous vehicles have taken place only on private land in the United Kingdom so far. All that will change before the end of the year, though, as the broadcaster cites the UK government as saying the cars will be tested on public roads before the calendar flips to 2014.
Driverless cars will, of course, not be allowed to run amok on Britain's roads just yet. The BBC says initial testing will take place using semi-autonomous cars that will allow a driver to take over if necessary. Indeed, a Department of Transport report says researchers in Oxford are trialling a semi-autonomous car capable of learning the environment in which it travels and advising the driver when it feels ready to take responsibility for control of the vehicle.
Despite the advancements, the DoT says we're still quite a ways off from autonomous vehicles becoming commonplace. In fact, the report notes that experts are citing 2040 as the time when semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles will become the norm. Speaking to the BBC, Paul Watters, echoed that it would be 'a long time' before we reach the point where driverless cars are a mainstream technology.
"The notion of reading the newspapers and drinking a cup of coffee is a bit far-fetched," he's quoted as saying. "It's early days and driverless cars won't be mainstream for a long time."
Driverless cars are also being tested in other countries around the world as well as by private corporations like Google.