The recent announcement that Milton Keynes will be the test-bed for an important driverless car project brings one element of our "science fiction future" just that little bit closer to reality.
If there's one town or city in the UK that is tailor made for the testing of self-driving cars, it's Milton Keynes. Essentially created in 1967 (albeit on the site of an existing village), Milton Keynes's grid road layout would seem to provide the ideal environment for self-driving cars: lots of straight lines; and good pedestrian visibility.
The project, targeted to launch in 2015, will see 20 two-person driverless "pods" travelling the one mile route between Milton Keynes railway station and the town centre on specially designated pathways. The plan is to increase the number of pods to about 100 by 2017, with the pods running on "normal" roads and covering a range of routes around the town.
The pods will use a combination of GPS, laser and camera technology and will be "hailed" via a smartphone app and journeys will probably be priced at £2. Powered by batteries and travelling at about 12mph, users will have the option of steering the pod or using an in-vehicle screen to check for emails or catch up with the latest news. There's a £65m investment behind the project and a lot of interest in it from government, car manufacturers, town planners, environmental groups, road safety groups, car insurance providers and a host of others.
Why? Because this project is important on so many fronts. It brings to fruition a series of "closed" or limited trials by organisations including Google, Volvo and Oxford University. If successful it has massive implications for the future of our town and city centres, potentially easing traffic congestion and pollution. Road safety groups will point towards Google's claims that their driverless car tests have yielded 400,000 accident-free miles. Car insurance companies will be noting this with interest too. And the test could well give electric vehicle technology a shot in the arm.
We've already made a diary note to visit Milton Keynes in 2015 so that we can produce our fist blog-from-a-pod.