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Published Date: 15/09/2017

Something’s been happening right under our noses, and you’ve probably missed it altogether. In some ways it’s been creeping up on us for years, and yet at the same time it all seems to be happening at once. What we’re talking about are driverless cars, which look to be the future of motoring.

Do we need them?

With over a million deaths from road traffic accidents around the world each year, and the increasing need to go green, something had to be done. And in April this year, a British consortium announced that it was going to test self-driving cars on the country’s roads and motorways in 2019. So, could we really be looking at driverless cars ferrying us around in just a couple of years’ time?

Trials and errors

The simple answer to that question, is no. It's going to take many years, many trials and many errors to have the systems and technologies in place before we can start buying fully automated self-driving cars.

There’s already been a number of errors to cause concern. Recently, an Uber trial with autonomous cars was called off in California after there were reports of numerous vehicles committing errors such as running red lights. While these issues can be ironed out, it’s going to take a while.

The blame game

The issue of blame is going to be an almighty hurdle to overcome in the world of driverless cars. Let’s say your car swerves to avoid a cyclist that seems too close and hits another car in the process. At some point, the car’s been programmed by a human to protect other human life, but it’s to the detriment of potentially your own health, your insurance, and your ability to make the meeting you’re headed to. And what if the other car involved is autonomous - should it have seen you coming, so is the collision that car’s fault? Whether owners, manufacturers or computer programmers will be put to blame is a question still unanswered.  

It’s all about the money

Despite these issues, the march towards driverless continues at pace. There’s a lot of money being invested in the technology, especially by Google who spend $30 million per year on it. Earlier in 2017, computing giant Intel paid over £15 billion to acquire Mobileye, one of the market leaders in automated driving technology.

With so much investment we’re almost certain to see driverless cars make it to market. In truth, we already use lots of driver aids that mark the first steps into the world of automated driving.

Semi-autonomous already

From ABS and traction control to automatic windscreen wipers, parking sensors and automated cruise control, technology is always improving. Functions like lane assist will stop you veering into the wrong lane, while some cars have been forced into emergency stops that have saved lives.

As we move through the levels of autonomous driving, the day when the first production driverless car hits the showroom moves ever closer. Toyota has recently teamed up with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, as it looks to break new ground. At some point, manufacturers and tech companies are likely to have to work together when it comes to mapping out the world’s roads.

UK road test

Which brings us to the plan to test a fleet of driverless cars by the Driven consortium in 2019. Previous tests in the UK have been away from public roads and generally at slow speeds. The UK government has committed around £100 million towards autonomous driving projects, with Driven backed to the tune of £8.6 million.

In some ways it’s surprising that the UK’s so far behind countries like America when it comes to testing at this stage. But no doubt we’ll take on board what they learn stateside, as we look to make our own roads as safe as possible. The theory of the technology’s there, it’s just a matter of time before it becomes a reality.

 

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