Driverless: Who is in control?

Dominic in glass workshop © Dominic Wilcox

12 June 2019 – October 2020
A free exhibition at the Science Museum

For decades, autonomous vehicles have been heralded as a new technology that could change the way we live our lives. Driverless: Who is in control? opening today at the Science Museum will explore how close we are to living in a world driven by thinking machines.

From self-driving cars to autonomous flying drones and smart underwater vehicles like the Autosub Long Range fleet which includes ‘Boaty McBoatface’, the exhibition will explore how much of this seemingly futuristic technology already exists and extends far beyond the cars we’re familiar with, how much control we’re willing to transfer to them and how their wider deployment could shape our habits, behaviour and society.

Roger Highfield, Science Director at Science Museum Group, said, ‘Driverless: Who is in control? will highlight how autonomous technology may seem like the stuff of sci-fi but has been around longer than many realise, beginning with our beautiful 1960 Citroen DS19  automatically-guided motor car, which followed the magnetic field from embedded cables in the M4. We’ll be exploring how robotic vehicles have evolved with mine clearance drones from Mine Kafon, the world’s first self-driving racing car, barley from the first crop harvested by autonomous machines, and how Boaty McBoatface will attempt the world’s first under-ice crossing of the Arctic Ocean. In Driverless we’ll ask timely questions about how much control we’re willing to cede to AI machines and how driverless technology could transform our world.’

Visitors will have the chance to explore three distinctive zones in the exhibition, Land, Air and Water. Each section will explore the different technology solutions already operating in these environments, the motivations of their developers, and their potential to transform a range of activities and industries.

Robocar back © Roborace


In Land, visitors can get up close with examples of real self-driving vehicles. Part of the Science Museum Group collection, the classic 1960 Citroen DS19 car was modified in the UK to “self-drive” in early experiments in driverless technology. More modern examples include the Robocar, a self-driving electric racing car and the Westfield POD, a fully electric autonomous vehicle for first/last-mile journeys. On display will also be artist Dominic Wilcox’s Stained Glass Driverless Sleeper Car of the Future – a speculative take on the safety of road travel guaranteed by artificial intelligence.

Visitors will meet other surprising land vehicles, from Duckiebots that ferry rubber duck passengers through model cities, to farming and delivery robots. They will also get to play with interactive displays that let them “see” the world through the eyes of a driverless car and decide the level of autonomy that they feel comfortable granting to machines, and the kind of choices they let machines make.

In Air, visitors can explore the stories behind flying drones being developed to deliver goods and services at the speed of flight, from defibrillators for emergency medical response teams to hot dinners for the hungry. This section will also feature autonomous drones being developed to clear minefields by the Mine Kafon project, acrobatic drones that will monitor building sites; and drones that use star-mapping technology to detect endangered wildlife and poachers. It will also feature anti-drone technologies, from wearable jammers to nets fired from bazookas to take down drones used for malicious purposes.

Deployment of full scale Autosub Long Range in the southern Weddell Sea as part of the Filchner Ice Shelf System © National Oceanography Centre (NOC)
Deployment of full scale Autosub Long Range in the southern Weddell Sea as part of the Filchner Ice Shelf System © National Oceanography Centre (NOC)

In the final section, Water, visitors can get up close to a range of vehicles including a scale model of one of the most recognisable marine vessels in the world – ‘Boaty McBoatface’, part of the Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC) Autosub Long Range fleet. This autonomous underwater submarine can explore hundreds of meters beneath the Antarctic ice independently for weeks on end. Commissioned by NERC, Autosub Long Range was developed by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and is used to study the effects of climate change. Water will also feature exciting prototype vessels designed to monitor ocean plankton and map the sea floor, helping to uncover how crucial exploratory vessels are to gathering data in these inhospitable environments and furthering our understanding of the natural world.

Michael Ellis, Future of Mobility Minister at Department for Transport, said, ‘Self-driving technologies have tremendous potential for road safety, mobility and the economy, and the Government is exploring these opportunities through its Future of Mobility Grand Challenge. It is great to see the Science Museum exploring this exciting innovation and its implications for future transport, and inspire the next generation of engineers.’

The exhibition is supported by MathWorks (Principle Sponsor) and Direct Line Group (Major Sponsor) and PwC (Major Sponsor) and Samsung Electronics UK (Technology Partner).

Driverless: Who is in control? is free and open daily from 12 June 2019 until October 2020, with late opening (18.45 to 22.00) on the last Wednesday of each month for Lates.

Sham Ahmed, Managing Director at MathWorks UK, said, ‘MathWorks is proud to be partnering with the Science Museum to highlight applications of Artificial Intelligence and deep learning in autonomous vehicles. Investment in these areas is growing year on year, and with driver assistance systems in many of the vehicles on the road today, autonomy is already woven into our everyday lives. This trend is set to increase and, with this in mind, the launch of Driverless couldn’t be better timed.’

Dan Freedman, Director of Motor Development at Direct Line Group, said,‘We’ve been working very hard at Direct Line Group to understand how autonomous vehicles can influence the future of driving and what this means for our customers and insurance. There are so many questions relating to autonomous vehicles including how they will work and interact with drivers, pedestrians and other cars on the roads. We are delighted to be working with the Science Museum who will bring this issue to life in the exhibition by showcasing how artificial intelligence is being used, how it may be used in the future and will address some of the big issues around driverless vehicles.’

Jon Andrews, Head of Technology and Investments for PwC, said,‘Technology continues to move forward at pace, changing the way we work and live and impacting all areas of life. We’re already seeing how automation can simplify everyday tasks, from driver assist systems to virtual assistants on smartphones and in the home. With companies exploring using drones for delivery and trialling driverless cars on our roads, the trend for autonomous vehicles is gaining significant momentum. The Science Museum’s new exhibition is exploring the future of autonomous vehicles and we’re delighted to be supporting them in this important area.’

Sam Grant, Chief Marketing Officer of Samsung Electronics UK, said,‘Artificial intelligence is already part of our day-to-day lives and, as a society, we are on the brink of realising its potential to make our lives easier. At Samsung we’re striving to shape this new era of connected living, where products and services seamlessly interact with one another. We are committed to the development of AI and we’ve opened AI research centres all over the world, including one here in the UK in Cambridge. We believe AI should provide a tangible benefit and meaningful value to the end user, so the Driverless: who is in control? exhibition at the Science Museum is a great opportunity for the public to explore the technology that will soon shape our world.’

Aleyne Johnson, Director of Government & External Relations, Samsung UK, said, ‘Driverless cars are one of the applications of AI that has truly captured the public’s imagination, evoking excitement and anxiety in equal measure. That’s why exhibitions like Driverless at the Science Museum are so important. At Samsung we believe we have a responsibility to explore people’s questions about new technologies. Only by addressing these can we improve understanding of AI and build public trust and confidence. It’s part of our wider goal of reconnecting people with one of the most important technologies of our age.  By doing so, we hope to ensure everyone can access the opportunities AI provides.’

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