Londoners could be whisked around the capital in a fleet of self-driving cars by 2021 after a new partnership deal was signed this week.
The move could eventually see Addison Lee’s entire fleet of distinctive black cabs operate without drivers.
Oxford-based Oxbotica will start the complex task of mapping 250,000 miles of roads in and around the capital next month, logging every traffic feature.
Addison Lee says its 5000 drivers in London would be retained, at least initially, with autonomous vehicles offering a cheaper option for passengers.
Chief executive Andy Boland said driverless vehicles would be cheaper to run but insisted that a fully automated fleet was not imminent.
“For the foreseeable future I would draw that distinction between premium services and technology opening other sorts of services at a relevant price point,” he said.
Oxbotica chief executive Graeme Smith said the partnership was a “huge leap” towards bringing autonomous vehicles into everyday use in London and elsewhere.
He said the plan would be to roll the service out to other UK cities and that New York was also in their sights.
The first autonomous services are likely to be operated around airports and university campuses and also for corporate shuttles.
Transport for London’s transport innovation director Michael Hurwitz welcomed the initiative and said it could revolutionise daily travel for millions of people in London.
He added that TfL was keen to engage with both firms as soon as possible.
UK cities need to understand the “opportunities, risks and challenges” they face when considering how future transport services will operate, he said.
London would not be the first city to operate driverless cabs – Tokyo has already launched a self-driving taxi pilot project.
Toyota is also working on the development of an autonomous taxi fleet for Uber.