Most autonomous cars on the market today need plenty of help from the driver, having automation levels of either 2 or 3. But with developments such as Google’s self-driving car, we’re moving closer to a driverless world. Sooner than we think, artificially intelligent vehicles will be driving us home after a night out.
Most manufacturers, mindful of this for at least a decade now, have been quietly developing self-driving models. Semi-autonomous features such as ‘adaptive cruise control’ will soon be the norm and will mean we won’t have to worry about rear-ending the car in front. The car’s cruise control system will adjust our speed to keep us a safe distance from traffic ahead.
Even better, we won’t have to work ourselves into a sweat parallel parking, but will be able to rely on parking assist technology instead. For those who are easily distracted – trying to read large ads on an overhead bypass, for instance – lane assist will stop the dangerous slide into the path of traffic. A warning system will warn the driver when the vehicle begins to move out of its lane, unless of course the indicator is on and the manoeuvre deliberate.
Our cars are no longer just engines on wheels that get us from A to B, they are sophisticated computers too. Much as we love technology, however, most people would think twice before handing over our car keys to one. Apart from the anxiety factor, many people still enjoy driving and would be reluctant to relinquish the driving seat. We’re not ready to jump into the passenger seat just yet, but by 2040, experts predict that cars as we know them will no longer exist.
Despite these predictions, it’s hard to imagine that drivers will become obsolete. Driving is a popular recreational activity, and one that keeps people engaged during an otherwise boring commute. Sitting passively in a driverless car will never replace the satisfaction of being in control and travelling on your own terms. It seems a little far-fetched to write off modern motoring, given that so many people don’t see driving as a chore.
How Will Cars Be Driven?
At this stage it’s hard to say, but it seems likely that autonomous vehicles and cars driven by road users will coexist on our roads in future. All current applications of autonomous technology are compatible with the driving experience. Features such as adaptive cruise control are being used to help drivers, as opposed to replacing them. If driverless cars take this approach, drivers will continue to get behind the wheel.
Ultimately, drivers should be given the choice to hand over control to a machine – or not. It makes no sense for manufacturers to alienate motoring enthusiasts by preventing them driving their own vehicles. Of course, autonomous vehicles will have the edge when it comes to long journeys, where motorists would rather sit back and relax than be chained to the wheel for 4 hours.
If driverless cars follow the model set by adaptive cruise control, drivers should be able to override the autopilot any time. It will be easy too for drivers to hand over control to the onboard artificial intelligence whenever they want. This will make things easier, not only in terms of convenience, but safety as well. Even though machines are reliable, they can of course break down. Having the option to take control in an emergency will help everyone feel safer.
Integrating Driverless Cars
In the meantime, we’ll need to begin integrating and accommodating autonomous technology. As manufacturers refine autonomous vehicles to handle low-speed maneuvering and lane changing, we’ll see regulations being introduced to reflect these developments. Car insurance companies will need to be flexible when accommodating these new vehicles in the marketplace.
As regards infrastructure, we may see lanes dedicated to autonomous vehicles and separate parking spaces. MIT’s Professor of the Practice of Urban Technologies, Carlo Ratti predicts that vehicle automation will mean 80% fewer cars on our roads. Such a reduction would change the landscape of our cities, as acres of parking space are freed up.
When driverless cars are introduced, consumers will have a range of sustainable fuel options available to them. Tesla’s Model S electric car has paved the way for electric vehicles. These will not only spare the environment but will help drivers to keep fuel costs down as well.
Another sustainable option is hydrogen powered and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles. Hydrogen-fueled vehicles are still at an early stage, but if they reach the mass production point, we’ll have a generation of autonomous cars that emit only water and heat.
Instability in the oil industry is driving this transition towards fuel efficiency and sustainability. Oil companies have been warning us for some time now that oil supplies are drying up, leading to price hikes. Autonomous cars are set to capitalise on this.
Driverless Cars: A Brave New World?
Technology continues to drive consumer behavior in this age of connectivity. The more we consume entertainment on demand, the bigger the attraction of autonomous vehicles. In future, we’ll be able to commute to work watching our favorite Netflix shows, instead of fixating on the bumper ahead.
Companies such as Zoox, have begun to design autonomous cars with seats that face the center – think London black cabs - moving away from the traditional ‘eyes on the road’ model. So, while autonomous cars make everyday transport more hands-off, our demands for onboard connectivity will increase to fill the void.
For many, models such as Zoox’s cab without a steering wheel raises serious concerns about the future of motoring. Tech writers can wax lyrical about the virtues of autonomous cars ‘til the cows come home, but many road users just don’t want change. After all, diehard petrol heads see driving as a form of self-expression and escape!
Although autonomous vehicles will shake things up, traditional motoring will not disappear overnight. The car industry has built itself on presenting vehicles as extensions of their owners. It is unlikely that manufacturers will abandon the dream drive in favour of automotive technology any time soon. Old-school drivers and driverless car fans should prepare to happily coexist for the foreseeable future.