Making small talk with a taxi driver could soon become a thing of the past.
Oxbotica, a start-up spun-out of Oxford University, has today signed a deal with Addison Lee, the taxi and courier company, to launch a driverless taxi service in the capital by 2021.
Ahead of the launch, the companies plan to work together to map more than 250,000 miles of public roads in an attempt to refine the AI used by the taxis to avoid and anticipate obstacles.
The news comes as another British driverless car start-up, Bristol-based Five AI, showcased its own plans for driverless cars at an event at London's Design Museum. FiveAI has developed eight blue Ford Mondeos, which the company says cost $250,000 each, to take to the streets to collect road and traffic data.
Both companies are racing to launch home grown driverless car services in the UK ahead of Google's Waymo project, which is estimated to be worth $175bn, and Uber.
Graeme Smith, chief executive of Oxbotica, said the deal "represents a huge leap towards bringing autonomous vehicles into mainstream use on the streets of London".
Andy Boland, chief executive of Addison Lee, said the partnership with Oxbotica would continue the "British success story in how we revolutionise the way people get around cities".
Meanwhile, speaking at a launch event at London's Design Museum last week, Five AI's chief executive said Britain needed to take the lead in self-driving cars ahead of the US and China.
Five AI chief executive Stan Boland, who happens to be the brother of the Addison Lee boss, said: "A European city is very different to US cities or a suburb. Our cities grew as Medieval towns with winding roads. The challenge we have is unique and massive."
Of the UK's driverless car ambition, Stan Boland added: "This is the most important project I have ever seen. The UK is uniquely set up to solve this challenge. The European market is massive - we spend $900bn a year on cars. Our US and Chinese competitors are busy trying to get their own cars to work, but we can steal a march."
Both start-ups have moved to increase their war chests to fund the expansion of their self-driving car projects. Last year, FiveAI raised $35m from Lakestar Capital and current investors Amadeus Capital Partners. Oxbotica raised £14m in a round closed earlier this year from investors IP Group, Parkwalk Advisors and AXA XL.
Fraser Robinson, who heads up the board of directors at Oxbotica, said:“This is a truly ground-breaking development for the future of transport, not least because it’s happening in London – one of the world’s most valuable and complex mobility cities.
"Oxbotica is developing the advanced technology needed to both, make vehicles autonomous, and to intelligently co-ordinate fleets of autonomous vehicles. In Addison Lee, we now have a world-class partner to commercialise that technology and unlock its potential.
“Our combined set of unique capabilities, in autonomous vehicle software and in mobility services, is what enables us to be the first to commit to putting autonomous, passenger-carrying vehicles on London’s streets in the near future.”