A new ‘driverless’ taxi service is being launched today (Saturday, April 1).
The new service will use so-called autonomous cars which means a sophisticated computer will be driving the car, not a human being.
A world first it will cover the Portadown, Lurgan and Craigavon area and is the brainchild of Albert Prilfool.
The driverless car has been in development by a number of technology firms but this is the first time such a vehicle will see use outside the safety of a test track.
The cars use computers, radar, sonar, infrared beams and ‘touch sensitive bumpers’ in combination with GPS systems to navigate safely and are 100 times less likely to be involved in an accident than vehicles driven by humans (as long as the computer itself doesn’t crash).
The cars will even come with an animatronic driver - quite literally a dummy behind the wheel - to reassure passengers reluctant to use the cars.
The dummies will be fully animated, capable of giving all the hand signals recognised in the Highway Code plus many of the more frequently used signalling gestures.
They will also have their own personalities which can be preset by paying a cash tip - ranging from ‘downright surly’ at a cost of 50p to ‘talk the legs off a donkey’ at a generous £5.
Mr Prilfool said getting the cars on the road had not been without its challenges: “We had first installed the system in a BMW but we found there were interface problems, no matter what we did we just couldn’t get the system to use the indicators.”
Another problem was in the unique rules of the road applied to Craigavon: “With so many roundabouts we had a big decision to make. Did we programme the cars to negotiate roundabouts in the manner outlined in the Highway Code or did we take the entirely random approach adopted by most drivers in the area?
“In the end we decided on the random approach, as we felt it would be less likely for passengers to try to take over in those circumstances.”
If you see one of the cars on the road today why not let us know, if you are lucky enough to get pictures or videos email them to us.