8,000-mile test for driverless car

Two driverless vehicles have begun an 8,000-mile trip to test the endurance of the technology.

They will have to make sure theircar insurance covers them for their mammoth journey as the two bright orange vehicles will have to navigate the traffic of Moscow, the scorching heat of the Gobi desert and the bitter cold of Siberia on their trip from Italy to China.

Thankfullybreakdown cover may not be needed as a team of engineers will be on hand to fix any faults that occur.

Project leader Alberto Broggi said: "What we are trying to do is stress our systems and see if they can work in a real environment, with real weather, real traffic and crazy people who cross the road in front of you and a vehicle that cuts you off,"

The trip consists of two pairs of vehicles, each with a driven lead van followed by a driverless vehicle occupied by two technicians, whose job is to fix glitches and take over the wheel in case of an emergency.

The driverless vehicle takes cues from the lead van, but will have to respond to any ordinary obstacles or dangers. The two pairs alternate stretches along the route to China.

Governments have yet to produce rules of the road for driverless vehicles, so the team has obtained prior permission from all countries along the route to carry out the experiment. To protect themselves from liability, they are placing one of the technicians in the driver's seat, ready to assume the controls or hit an emergency shutdown button if necessary.

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