Driverless Cars Set to Hit the Streets of London This Summer

PHOTO: A driverless car called The Pod Car is part of a fleet currently being tested at Heathrow airport on Aug. 11, 2009 in London. UK Press via Getty Images
A driverless car called 'The Pod Car' is part of a fleet currently being tested at Heathrow airport on Aug. 11, 2009 in London.

The driverless cars that could hit the roads of London as early as this summer will look familiar to anyone who has visited Heathrow Airport.

The first vehicles are being adapted from the pod-like shuttles that have shepherded passengers between the parking lot and Heathrow's Terminal 5 for the past five years. While the battery-powered shuttles run on a track, their new autonomous counterparts will be adapted so they can navigate the streets of London on their own, according to an announcement posted on Heathrow's website.

The project is being funded by a consortium of companies and the United Kingdom's public innovation agency. Once the final fleet is ready in July, the plan is to test seven pod vehicles in the Greenwich district near the O2 arena, with the possibility of adding some residential routes, according to the BBC.

Researchers hope the trial will allow them to see how the cars and their technology interact with their urban environment -- which includes the reactions they'll likely get from pedestrians and human drivers. Other trials being planned will also include valet parking and automated deliveries, according to the announcement.

Each pod will accommodate up to six passengers. Someone must be present in the pod at all times to press an emergency button if any issues arise.