By Jerome Clarkson, Motoring Editor
Testing of a driverless car went drastically wrong when it ran amok in Suffolk, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage and leaving two cyclists in hospital.
The high-tech autonomous vehicle was being assessed on an industrial estate near Felixstowe when it took off, going on a 50-mile rampage.
It was meant to be doing laps around the estate in Kirton, where engineers were fine-tuning its parking capabilities.
But it is believed an apprentice had been messing about with its sat nav programming systems – which then clicked in unexpectedly. In an hour-long drama, the car:
– Drove out of Kirton and headed down the A14 to Ipswich
– Went along the pavement for five miles towards the town centre, sending pedestrians scurrying into bushes and front gardens
– Smashed into the Buttermarket shopping centre and went right through the mall, coming out of the other side
– Zipped around a McDonalds drive-thru seven times
– Entered Ipswich Town’s Portman Road stadium and drove around the pitch, knocking over both sets of goalposts
– Explored every level of the Ipswich rail station multi-storey car park
– Looped 30 times around the busy Civic drive roundabout, knocking two cyclists over
The carnage only stopped when the car went to the town’s Greyhound pub and turned itself off in the car park.
Google’s driverless car has not had problems
Now engineers are frantically going back to the drawing board to prevent similar incidents.
The car, developed by Korean company Kak, was thought to be only months away from mainstream production, but the incident will set back the development of the vehicles for several years.
A Kak spokesman told the Suffolk Gazette: “This is all very embarrassing. The car was working perfectly well but a young lad at the testing site got a bit over excited when he was setting the GPS system.
“He entered all the coordinates for a joke, but was horrified when the sat nav switched on and the car took itself off. We are very pleased that the car followed his instructions perfectly, but of course that is not really the point.
“We have paid the shopping centre and Ipswich Town Football Club for the damage caused, and send our best wishes to the injured cyclists.”
Driverless or autonomous cars are expected to boom in the coming years, and will be worth £50 billion to the UK economy alone.
But the public will take some convincing that the vehicles are safe.