Are driverless cars really upon us and how long will it take for it to become a complete reality?
8 Questions About Driverless Cars We Want Answered
1. Will I Be a Driver Or a Passenger?
You’ll have a choice, says Dr Nick Reed, academy director at transport consultancy TRL.
“If you want to drive an MG and enjoy that, you’ll be able to. Or, if you want to prepare for a business meeting during your two-hour journey, you’ll be able to do that too. Automation systems give us choices.”
Nikolaus Lang, of the Boston Consulting Group’s Centre for Digital in Automotive, argues it will depend on the vehicle you’re in.
“By 2030, you’ll be a ‘controlling passenger’ in your private self-driving car. And, you’ll be a ‘complete passenger’ in a robo-taxi.”
2. Will It Make Sense To Own Or Rent a Car?
Stan Boland, CEO of FiveAI says, “Imagine an Uber-like service you can summon at the touch of a button, but without a driver. Renting is not necessarily the right word. Consumers will buy a service, like using an Uber today, but with a wider range of vehicle configurations to suit different types of travel. This includes family outings, long-distance sleeper travel, or shared commutes.”
FiveAI builds AI-driven software for AVs and is one of the companies testing autonomous vehicles on UK roads in 2017. Alongside major manufacturers including Volvo and Ford.
3. Will There Still Be Car Crashes?
Boland says, “When you eliminate human error, our roads become dramatically safer. No more drunk-driving, phone calls at the wheel, carelessness, inattention, or plain bad driving. Clearly there needs to be adequate industry testing to ensure that AVs are safe for all other road users. But, we can look forward to far safer roads, as human drivers become a thing of the past.”
According to a 2008 survey, by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, human error is the critical reason for 93% of all crashes.
4. Will All Cars Be Electric?
Danny Shapiro does not think so. Shapiro is the senior director at NVIDIA, whose AI computer platform powers the supercomputer in Tesla vehicles.
“Virtually every startup is looking at electric. You have ever greater electric and hybrid focus from German, Japanese, and US (manufacturers). But, at the same time, there’s still a huge oil infrastructure. And, at least for the next four years, there’s a very pro-oil administration in the US.”
Bosch is developing a lithium-ion solid state battery that will hopefully double the range of electric vehicles at half the cost of today’s batteries. Steffen Hoffmann, Bosch UK’s president, believes this will increase take-up among those who live in the suburbs and beyond.
“We have a projection that by 2025, 15% of vehicles, globally, are going to have an electric component, whether that’s a pure electric vehicle, a plug-in hybrid or full hybrid,” he says. “For western Europe, that percentage would obviously be higher.”
5. Will There Still Be Driving Tests?
“Yes, but they might be very different, with different layers,” says Reed.
Reed explains this by saying that just as we have automatic and manual driving licences, there is likely to be an automated driving test, which may only entitle you to ‘drive’ a certain type of vehicle. For example, certain automation systems, rather than any vehicle.
“Drivers will need to understand how to operate those systems. So, there may also be different skills required as part of the test.”
6. Will There Be Less (Or No) Gridlock Traffic?
“With a heterogeneous mix of vehicle configurations and on-demand service delivery, autonomous vehicles will enable a higher density of passengers per road mile,” says Boland. “Also, because AVs can travel safely closer together, and with less braking and accelerating than human drivers, traffic will flow more smoothly and congestion will decrease. On motorways, more vehicles will be able to fit safely into the same length of road, effectively increasing capacity”.
Another key cause of congestion is accidents, says Shapiro.
“Even if (the accident) isn’t blocking lanes, the traffic slows down to see what’s going on. So, self-driving cars will not only enable more efficient flow, but they’ll remove the accident side of congestion (as there will be fewer of them).”
7. Will Driverless Cars Be Vulnerable To Hackers?
Andy Birnie of NXP Semiconductors says,“A hacker can potentially take control of the car, through exploitation of a weakness, and could cause the vehicle to refuse to start or to crash. Or, it could exploit the privacy of the driver, and (their) data, including financial information.”
8. Will I Need Insurance?
“Yes,” says Niall Edwards, partner at international law firm Kennedys. Fully autonomous vehicles are likely to be considered a different class of vehicle that requires additional compulsory insurance cover, he says.
According to Glen Clarke of Allianz UK, we are likely to see a drop in premiums.
“The price you pay will be much more influenced by the technical capabilities of the car, as opposed to estimations of the riskiness of the driver.”