U.K. to Test Driverless Cars on Public Roads Come January

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In a mere matter of months, driverless cars could be buzzing along public roads across the United Kingdom.

Britain’s business secretary, Vince Cable, announced today an ambitious program whereby three cities will compete to host trials of self-driving cars next January. Interested parties must declare so in October, and a total of $17 million will eventually be allotted for 18 to 36 months of testing in winning locales.

The initiative puts the U.K. “at the forefront of this transformational technology and [opens] up new opportunities for our economy and society,” he told the BBC.

Ministers are also reviewing countrywide road regulations that have thus far restricted tests -- including an ongoing study at the University of Oxford -- to private roads.

Related: A Panic Button and No Steering Wheel: A Look at Google's First Self-Driving Car

The U.K. is not the first country to allow driverless cars on public roads. Japan, Sweden and the United States -- in California, Nevada and Florida -- have all approved similar tests.

The technology took another giant leap towards actualization when Google, after three years in the making, unveiled its autonomous prototype in May, touting no steering wheel and a panic button.

Promising though the idea may be in terms of user convenience, traffic expediency, pollution prevention and reducing accidents, analysts also caution that self-driving cars could be tantalizing to hackers and critically vulnerable to malware.

In a study released in January, global research firm IHS said it expects self-driving cars to be widely available before 2025 and that nearly all vehicles on the road will be self-driving sometime after 2050.

Related: The Only Thing Scarier Than Self-Driving Cars Are the Hackers Waiting to Attack Them

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