Driverless cars are an exciting glimpse of the future, with great potential to improve road safety. It seems the UK has caught on to this, announcing a £10 million (US$17 million) scheme to test driverless cars on public roads from January 2015.

The UK Government is calling on all major cities to join together with businesses and research organizations to put forward a proposal for the country to become a test location for autonomous cars. Trials are expected to last between 18 and 36 months, and the £10 million funding pot will serve as a competition prize for up to three UK cities, with London being confirmed as a hopeful bid.

Currently, self-driving cars are only allowed on private roads in the UK, but the new scheme will allow for the testing of fully autonomous vehicles on public roads, as well as cars with self-driving features.

"Driverless cars have huge potential to transform the UK’s transport network – they could improve safety, reduce congestion and lower emissions, particularly CO2," said the UK’s Transport Minister, Claire Perry.

Driverless cars have been coming for some time, with manufacturers including Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Toyota, Ford and Volvo all working on the technology. Jaguar also recently previewed its self-learning smart car which can mimic a driver's behavior.

Nissan recently carried out the first public road test of a driverless car on a Japanese highway, and has said it plans to be manufacturing driverless cars by 2020. Meanwhile, several states in the US have already passed legislation which will allow driverless cars, including California, Nevada and Florida.

Much of the limelight has centered on Google thus far; its driverless car has completed 804,000 km (500,000 miles) of road tests. The technology giant has set 2017 as the date its cars will hit the roads.

"Britain is brilliantly placed to lead the world in driverless technology. It combines our strengths in cars, satellites, big data and urban design; with huge potential benefits for future jobs and for the consumer," said Science Minister Greg Clark.

The deadline for applications for the driverless cars competition is October 1.