UK paves way for driverless cars


driverless cars

Driverless cars
Milton Keynes will introduce driverless pods

The government has announced that it wants to make the UK a world centre for the development of driverless cars.

It said it would conduct a review next year to ensure that the legislative and regulatory framework is in place for such vehicles to be incorporated on Britain’s roads.

It will also create a £10m prize to fund a town or city to become a testing ground for autonomous vehicles.

Milton Keynes is already experimenting with driverless pods.

By mid-2017 it is planned that 100 fully autonomous vehicles will run on the town’s pathways along with pedestrians, using sensors to avoid collisions.

The plans for self-drive cars were announced in the chancellor’s National Infrastructure Plan.

Radical change

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People will be like the millionaires of old where you just had a driver that did everything”

Brad TempletonSoftware engineer

Much of the hype around driverless cars centres around Google. Its self-drive car recently completed 500,000 miles (804,000km) of road tests.

In the US, California, Nevada and Florida have passed legislation to allow driverless cars.

This month Nissan carried out the first public road test of an autonomous vehicle on a Japanese highway.

Many envisage a future when we may not own cars at all but simply hail one to fulfil all our transportation needs.

“I call it mobility on demand. You pop out your mobile phone, say where you want to go and how many people and in a short amount of time a vehicle rolls up,” said Brad Templeton, software engineer and adviser to Google on its self-drive car project.

“People will be like the millionaires of old where you just had a driver that did everything. These cars will worry about recharging, parking and refuelling. They will drive down a road without you paying much attention to it,” he said.

Such cars will make cities both safer and greener, he thinks.

“It will radically change the amount of energy we use, how congested our streets are and eliminate most of the parking lots that take up a huge amount of space in our cities.

“Humans kill 1.2 million people in car accidents each year so the idea of being able to make a safer vehicle is very appealing,” he said.

Many think that the issue of who will be liable in the event of accidents will hold up the development of autonomous vehicles but Mr Templeton is not convinced.

“I think only the barristers will find it the most interesting question,” he said.

“For me the more interesting question is whether a machine is more liable than a drunk driver. Countries that decide a machine is more liable will slow the development of this technology,” he added.

Car manufacturers suggest that autonomous vehicles will be on the roads within the decade.

Google has given 2017 as the date its cars will hit the roads. Not to be outdone, Elon Musk, head of electric car company Tesla Motors, has said he will have such vehicles ready in 2016.

Other car manufacturers, including Daimler and Nissan have given a 2020 date for their own versions.

Much of the underlying technology for autonomous driving is already installed in cars such as the Mercedes S500 which uses onboard radar and 3D stereoscopic cameras to gauge the distance from other cars.

Child bone-marrow transplant ‘first’


First human trial of new bone-marrow transplant method.

Mohammed Ahmed
Mohammed started going to school in September

Doctors at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital have carried out a pioneering bone-marrow transplant technique.

They say the method should help with donor shortages since it does not require a perfect cell match.

Mohammed Ahmed, who is nearly five years old, was among the first three children in the world to try out the new treatment.

He has severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome and had been waiting for a suitable donor for years.

Mohammed, who lives in Milton Keynes, was referred to Great Ormond Street Hospital when he was a year old.

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We waited for a full match but it did not come. By the grace of God, we took the decision to have the treatment”

Jamil Ahmed, Mohammed’s dad

His condition – a weak immune system – makes him more susceptible to infections than most, and a bone marrow transplant is the only known treatment.

While Mohammed was on the transplant waiting list, he became extremely sick with swine flu.

At that time, his doctors decided Mohammed’s only real hope was to have a mismatched bone-marrow transplant, with his father acting as the donor.

Mohammed’s dad, Jamil, agreed to give the experimental therapy a go.

Before giving his donation, Jamil was first vaccinated against swine flu so that his own bone-marrow cells would know how to fight the infection.

Mohammed’s doctors then modified these donated immune cells, called “T-cells”, in the lab to engineer a safety switch – a self-destruct message that could be activated if Mohammed’s body should start to reject them once transplanted.

Safety net

Rejection or graft-v-host disease is a serious complication of bone-marrow transplants, particularly where tissue matching between donor and recipient is not perfect, and is one of the most difficult challenges faced by patients and their doctors.

Mismatched transplants in children – where the donor is not a close match for the child – are usually depleted of T-cells to prevent graft-v-host disease, but this causes problems in terms of virus infections and leukaemia relapse.

Blood cells
White blood cells protect the body against infections

The safety switch gets round this – plenty of T-cells to be transfused and later killed off if problems do arise.

Thankfully, the transplant carried out in 2011 was a success – Mohammed’s doctors did not need to use the safety switch.

Although Mohammed still has to take a number of medicines to ward off future infections, his immune system is now in better shape.

Jamil said: “We waited for a full match but it did not come. By the grace of God, we took the decision to have the treatment.

“Now he is all right. Sometimes we forget what he has been through. We are just so grateful.”

He said Mohammed would still need close monitoring and regular health checks over the coming years, but his outlook was good.

Dr Waseem Qasim, ‎consultant in paediatric immunology at Great Ormond Street Hospital and lead author for the study, said the new approach should hopefully mean children who received a mismatched transplant could enjoy the same chance of success as those given a fully matched transplant.

“We think Mohammed is cured of his disorder. He should be able to lead a fairly normal life now.”

A full report about Mohammed’s therapy and the research by Great Ormond Street Hospital, King’s College London and the Institute of Child Health has just been published in PLoS One journal.

There are currently about 1,600 people in the UK waiting for a bone-marrow transplant and 37,000 worldwide.

Just 30% of people will find a matching donor from within their families.

Donations involve collecting blood from a vein or aspirating bone marrow from the pelvis using a needle and syringe.