Putting the pedal to the metal on autonomous driving: Where we are now – and where we’re going
According to Allied Market Research, the global connected car market is expected to be worth $141 billion by 2020, with fully autonomous car sales predicted to hit 21 million by 2035. There are clear benefits, but also obstacles to overcome before autonomous cars meet all consumer, industry and legal requirements.
What is an autonomous car?
Since the launch of the first autonomous car, its definition has become a generic phrase for any kind of automation in vehicles. To avoid confusion, the industry has created six levels of autonomy. These range from level 0 where there is no automation; through to level five where no human control is needed for the vehicle.
Already on our roads today, around 10% of cars are connected to the Internet. Accenture predicts that 98% of cars will be connected by 2020.
What are the benefits?
A recent report from analyst firm Canalys points out that the autonomous car will not get distracted, not drive under the influence, not have blind spots, not get road rage, not fall asleep, not speed or pass through red lights. It will have faster reaction times than humans and with V2X connectivity, it will communicate with other vehicles, road users and pedestrians to anticipate and know what is ahead, enabling much-improved traffic flow and safer, less congested roads.
While we patiently await the arrival of the fully-autonomous car, the solutions that manufacturers are proposing today can provide a resolution to many issues. The latest innovations in connected cars are impressive, making driving easier, safer and more efficient. Driving aids using intelligent navigation, lane assistance, vehicle-to-everything (V2X), predictive maintenance and energy analysis are all in use today. Automotive manufacturers are rapidly adopting connected technologies in new car models bought to market.
Autonomous parking systems, integrated into some cars like the latest Nissan Leaf, are already making self-parking vehicles a step closer to reality. These technologies enable a car to accurately and safely park itself; all the driver has to do is press a button in the car or use an app on their smartphone to park remotely. Technology is also available that memorises parking environments and parking patterns, which can be used to automatically park vehicles in frequently used parking spaces such as at home or work.
Are they safe?
While it is clear autonomous cars offer many advantages, concerns about their safety are still prevalent. March 2018 saw the first fatal crash involving a connected car and a pedestrian in Arizona whereby the vehicle hit a pedestrian who was walking off a path. It was reported that somebody was inside the car at the time of the crash. This accident has of course sparked questions about safety, especially when autonomous cars are designed to detect pedestrians.
Human driving errors are avoided by autonomous vehicles, but others appear in their place. To be effective, autonomous cars need to learn, just like humans. Unfortunately, each time an accident occurs, the future of autonomous cars is called into question, even though, technically, autonomous cars are safer than traditional vehicles.
Looking to the future
Inevitably, autonomous cars will have a huge effect on our individual driving experiences, with comfort, reliability and safety all key factors. More importantly, autonomous cars are a key consideration in how our cities and towns of the future will be designed and structured.
Whilst it is not yet 2020 and autonomous cars still have a long way to go, it is clear that there are some really exciting innovations to come. Arguably, the future of our cities is inherently linked to the car of the future and we need to be taking a positive and progressive approach towards this.
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