Autonomous driving and the driverless vehicles of the future

Automation is perhaps the most talked about aspect relating to the future of the automotive and technology industries. Self-driving cars seem like a space-age concept, but they will eventually remove human beings from the act of driving, consequently reducing emissions and increasing safety on the roads.

It will be a gradual movement towards completely driverless vehicles, but we’ve already made the first transition with the advent of features such as adaptive cruise control (ACC) and automated parking systems (APS). Companies have long been investing into research and development that will allow cars to operate via a series of cameras, lasers and sensors, meaning that commuters can sit back and relax during their journey. Current Tesla vehicles (and others, including Volvo and Mercedes models) drive at almost level 3 autonomy, meaning that the car can drive itself, but a passenger may need to take control at any time.

There are questions about how much human intervention will be required in autonomous vehicles. Drivers might have to alternate between modes, allowing them to take control of the car, if they are navigating city streets or open highways, for instance. There might be a steering wheel, or even a joystick in the car for this purpose—but joystick models were very early concepts and unlikely to become a reality (think back to the Saab 9000!). The Peugeot e-LEGEND is a good example of what an autonomous/semi-autonomous vehicle might look like in the near future.

There’s currently a debate about whether both fully automated vehicles and driven vehicles can co- exist on the same roads – the potential for accidents will always exist and is very difficult to predict, even with the most advanced technologies. As technology improves, however, driving will become safer as sensors and cameras allow the autonomous vehicle to react with lightning speed precision. This will also remove the chance of human error behind the wheel. A commute will be smoother and congestion a thing of the past as traffic flow becomes centralised. Autonomous vehicles will also be able to communicate with other cars and the world around them thanks to increased connectivity.

In PwC‘s “Five Trends Transforming the Automotive Industry” report, it’s suggested that user behaviour will play a key role in how cars are used in the future. Passengers will travel more frequently, vehicles will be used more intensively and autonomous cars will be more accessible as drivers won’t need a driving licence. Many experts are still questioning whether full autonomy will ever become a reality, however.

As our mobility habits change, there will be a greater emphasis on using (rather than owning) vehicles as driverless options will eliminate the need for many to purchase a private mode of transport. Autonomous shared vehicles will be either station-based or free-flowing, which describes how and where the vehicle is available to use—either from a designated pick-up area or it will pick up riders en route from point A to point B.

While the future of fully automated vehicles is unfolding around us, some versions of driverless transport will likely become a reality over the next decade or so. Amazon is trialling delivery droids, which are compact autonomous vehicles that can transport parcels and groceries straight to your door. It’s likely that we’ll see more ecommerce businesses rolling out similar delivery methods in the coming years.

And then there’s the robotaxis, automated taxi systems, which will ferry passengers around. These will be a safe and accessible way for people to travel. In the US, Alphabet—Google’s parent company—launched self-driving car company, Waymo, and have been trialling robotaxis since December 2018.

Once the technology and infrastructure is in place, experts believe that level 4 autonomy can become a reality, where automated vehicles work within set perimeters, removing the potential for human error. A segregated lane scenario has been mentioned. This is set to be a popular mode of transport in urban environments and, without the need to pay human drivers, should be cheap. Long-haul transport will also benefit from automated trucks that can travel across uniform stretches of highway with ease.

Many companies are struggling to develop a vehicle that can drive autonomously at all speeds; low speed (parking) and high speed (motorway) manoeuvres are relatively easy, but middle speeds (town driving) are more difficult as there are more variables and obstacles to navigate.

Another consequence of the rise of autonomous vehicles will be in urban planning, allowing for city centres to be designed in favour of pedestrians without the need for traffic lights and parking spaces. It could also encourage people to relocate to rural areas as commuting becomes less stressful, especially if congestion and traffic are irritations of the past.

It’s not surprising that the concept of autonomous vehicles has captured our imagination— driverless cars have become the symbol of a futuristic, utopian society. In addition to this, they offer a greener, safer solution that will transform the way we travel.

With the excitement surrounding this industry, car manufacturers are looking for talent with experience in the autonomous technology and automotive space—especially senior leaders and technical experts in the field of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous driving.

If this sounds like you and you’re gearing up for a new challenge, why not get in touch me on Proco is working with some of the most exciting players in this field and would love to chat with you about our current vacancies.

Telegraph | Jaguar Land Rover teams up with BMW to develop electric vehicles
PwC | 5 Trends transforming the automotive industry
CNBC | Alphabet’s robotaxis get one step closer to commercial use in California


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