Technology has impacted hugely on the motor industry during the later years of the 20th century and into the 21st century. Electronics were introduced into car engines decades ago and now motor manufacturers are beginning to understand the real implications and potential of Artificial Intelligence or Autonomous Technology as it is known in the motor trade. This comes hot on the heels of the development of electric cars and hybrid engines. Changes in motor tech are, well, speeding away.
Driverless cars may once have been seen as the province of a Sci-Fi movie or James Bond film but they are already here and set to create the next revolution in motoring as we know it.
The stealth of AI
Driverless technology has slowly been impacting on our motoring lives did we but know it. A beep that tells you that your seatbelt is not secured, a rear parking sensor that assists you when reversing into a tricky space, a sensor that detects when you are about to stall the engine on a hill start, this is all driverless technology integrated into your vehicle through the medium of Artifical Intelligence. Even cruise control is a driverless feature and that’s been around for decades.
What is the point of a driverless car?
The idea behind the technology is to create a vehicle that performs better without a driver than with. This will lead to considerable improvements in road safety and should create far more efficient vehicle movements and interaction. It can also offer huge assistance to vulnerable road users such as new drivers, elderly drivers and those who have physical or mental limitations providing effective and safe travel for all.
The levels of driverless technology
To make it easier to evaluate, driverless technology has been broken down into five classifications by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) which are as follows:-
Level 0 – eyes on – the driver has total control of brakes, steering, accelerator, this is known as Conditional Automation
Level 1 – hands on – some of the driver’s responsibilities are taken over by the vehicle so speed for instance via cruise control and assisted parking. This is called Driver Assistance
Level 2 – hands off – as it says on the tin, the driver does not need to control the steering and the acceleration and braking are also managed by the vehicle. The driver does, however, need to able to react in an emergency. This is called Partial Automation
Level 3 – eyes off – the car is in almost complete control of all functions but a driver is still required to intervene in certain circumstances. The car is permitted to have an autonomous function in specified situations such as slow-moving traffic on a road in which oncoming traffic streams are separated by physical barriers. This is described as Conditional Automation
Level 4 – mind off – total automation within the confines of prescribed speed limits and certain road types. Fallback procedures for safety require the trip to cancel itself and the car to self-park if the circumstances change and the conditions are deemed inappropriate for the vehicle. This is called High Automation
Level 5 – steering wheel optional – humans are last century and not required for any part of the driving process. The potential to change the entire design of the vehicle is mind-blowing, do you even need windows? This is called Complete Automation
This might sound like something out of a space-age film but remember, airliners have been flying on automatic pilot options for many years now. This new technology is far closer than you might think. Level One and Two vehicles are already in the system and the former Chancellor, Philip Hammond, made a pledge in Theresa May’s government for driverless cars at Level 3 by 2021. Some industry pundits think that development will actually progress far faster and that we could be looking at Level 5 cars actually on the road by 2022.
This may seem impossible but the slow creep of technology has been paving the way for this for decades perhaps unseen to the general public. For legislators and law enforcers, this is possibly the biggest change in UK and worldwide motoring since cars first appeared around 100 years ag. Governments need to be ready with the appropriate checks and balance, statues and enforcement systems to reflect these new vehicles.
One of the central issues and one which manufacturers are keenly monitoring is, who is going to be deemed at fault in law in the event of an accident? For drivers, many are concerned about the pure safety of the vehicles particularly where young passengers are concerned. How secure is the technology? Could these vehicles effectively be subject to hacking or interference, with the potential to cause horrendous accidents?
But there is no getting away from the potential benefits. With over 90% of road accidents caused by human error, surely the roads will be safer. The financial and emotional cost of serious accidents with fatalities or life-changing injuries could become a thing of the past. And with most driverless cars electrically powered, this also ticks the green box too.
There are still huge challenges which lie ahead, not so much in the technology which is advancing at break neck speed but in how it should best be marshalled and the longer-term implications for society. Cars are programmed and built by people and those people have to make complex decisions about how a vehicle should behave in challenging or emergency situations, AI in cars suddenly got a whole lot harder. But make no mistake, this technology is not going to go away and by 2050 if not a whole lot sooner, both cars and road travel will have transformed totally from what it is today. Insurance, the driving test even car ownership will be completely remodelled by the middle of the 21st century.