When Will We See Driverless Cars?

Driverless cars are big news. If delivered correctly, there will be huge benefits to us, the environment, congestion and safety. With everybody from film producers to politicians telling us they are coming, when can we expect them? And how close are we today?

Since the invention of the car, manufacturers have been continually making them easier and safer to drive. From power steering to ABS, progress has been slow but steady. More recently, things have picked up and progressed greatly, with many family cars now self-parking and equipped with adaptive cruise control. Many feel it is a matter of years until we see driverless cars. Some even claim we are already at that point! So, when will driverless cars become mainstream for all of us?

First, let’s explore what a driverless car is…

Well, it’s pretty self-explanatory, but a driverless car will be an automobile purely designed to transport passengers between points via the road, not constrained to tracks like a train. It will have added flexibility to go anywhere, gravel or tarmac, with no more human involvement than setting the destination.

Some pros to self-driving cars are…

  • They will reduce vehicular deaths.
  • They will save time by improving traffic flow.
  • Traffic jams, commute times, and gas usage would all decrease.
  • Passengers can focus on other things.
  • Speed limits could be increased with widespread adoption.
  • No more drunk driving and related incidents if they are adopted fully.

How close are we today?

With these developments, you would think we are just a couple of years from driverless cars. However, I personally think we’re decades, or perhaps a century away from true driverless cars.

The closest mainstream car with such technology is probably the Tesla Model 3, with its self-driving “Autopilot”. This is a car that senses the road through a number of sensors and the satnav. On motorways it can work well, providing other drivers are considerate.

We have the Tesa Model 3 available through our Salary Sacrifice Scheme for sub-£400/month! All inclusive!

Some cons to automated vehicles…

  • They will put people out of jobs and companies out of business.
  • The car industry would suffer.
  • They would be expensive at first so it would be difficult to encourage all-around adoption.
  • There may be privacy concerns if they are programmed to record everything.
  • They are vulnerable to hackers due to their heavy reliance on computers.
  • The transition from regular cars to autonomous vehicles would be lengthy.

Moreover…

These cons show the possible downsides to driverless cars becoming the norm. However, we should talk about what manufacturing issues we’re going to have to overcome if these cars are actually coming to fruition…

  • Adaptive cruise control systems (such systems can slam the brakes on when a carrier bag blows across the road).
  • Current automatic braking.
  • No system can see a child kicking a ball by the side of a road filled with parked cars, or a car door about to open.
  • No system currently in circulation can differentiate hazards as well as the human brain.

The ‘I, Robot’ moment springs to mind. This is when a robot decides to save an adult rather than a child. I’ve personally damaged a car avoiding an animal, perhaps not the most logical action, but certainly the most human! How will we react if a computer makes the wrong decision, or if a software glitch causes an accident? Of course, humans make many mistakes and we accept that, but we would never accept fatalities caused by software or computers.

The 5G network is another development making driverless cars a rapidly approaching reality. One of the issues using driverless technology at the moment is that others do not use it. These other road users may cut up your ‘safe’ braking distance or make erratic moves that can hinder your journey. 5G could track every car’s movements with huge benefits to safety and congestion.

So, are driverless cars a fantasy?

I don’t think so. I can’t see whole journeys being made in driverless cars within my lifetime, due to both limitations in technology and unpredictability of pedestrians. However, I can absolutely see a time where the car engages an automatic mode once on the motorway until leaving the motorway. I can see this possibility within the next decade, but the speed of adaption will depend on how we can integrate both driverless and legacy cars on the same motorways.

 

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