We have the technology to make driverless cars a reality

The headline of your article on the development of the revolutionary Boss car implied that its driverless feature was a mere afterthought (All-new Cadillac will cut out carbon emissions - and driver, January 10).Driverless cars are not an afterthought: they would make the biggest impact on our lives of any of the current technologies: an end to 90% of vehicle accidents and deaths, the removal of parked cars from our streets, acceleration of hydrogen fuel for vehicles, the merging of private and public transport, and the immense saving of the time now spent on congested roads. As for taxis, driverless cabs could be parked anywhere waiting for a user to call them.

The article quoted a General Motors spokesman saying: "The technology exists right now to move cars without a driver. This [model] would know where all the vehicles are around it, dramatically reduce accidents and even reduce congestion." He failed to say that VW and Mercedes are believed to have had robot cars on the road for a year or more. The motor companies oppose robot cars because they would completely change the market's business model. You could no longer sell the "Driving Experience", and it would blur the divide between public and private transport - it would make no difference whose robot took you to work or the pub.

The article predicts that driverless cars would become part of a social network, exchanging information about road conditions - just as is becoming possible for owners of the BMW series 7.

The difficult parts of all this include moving away from the thinking of transport experts who predict intelligent roads, which would tell drivers and eventually cars what to do - a lucrative future that roadbuilding companies are planning. Another problem is the need to develop the law to license software for driverless cars.

The key technologies are known in British universities; and most regional groups of universities - like mine in Bradford, working with other Yorkshire universities - could put these systems together using strengths in mathematics, physics, law, communications, computing and engineering.

Most of the engineering would be ensuring that the vehicle is completely driven electronically, and rethinking how people would sit in a vehicle where there is no driver. These teams will not be led by vehicle engineers but by the sort of people who have put together our phone networks. At Bradford we run the only autonomous robot available to all on the internet, which is changing the way schoolchildren do experimental science.

So why isn't this at the top of the agenda for our research councils? Well, now that universities have to respond to commercial interests, their vehicle and transport sections are dominated by the business models of the major car manufacturing and roadbuilding firms.

Driverless vehicles are about thinking outside the box; if you always ask the same people the same questions, driverless cars will remain an afterthought.

John Baruch, the former head of the cybernetics department at the University of Bradford.