1. You’ll be using driverless cars sooner than you’d think

Driverless cars are already being tested across the UK. As a result of the 2014 UK Driverless Cars competition, £19 million has been designated to the testing of automated vehicle technology in Greenwich, Milton Keynes, Coventry and Bristol.

Autonomous vehicles running on tracks are currently in use at Heathrow Airport to shuttle passengers and real-street testing is due to commence in Greenwich this summer, announced Transport Minister, Andrew Jones.

In 2017, it is predicted that we will see autonomous vehicle testing on a combination of purpose-built “connected” road networks and regular UK motorways.

Current UK road legislations have enabled the fast uptake of driverless vehicle testing. It is legal to test driverless cars on public roads, providing a ‘test driver’ is present, the car is insured and can comply with road traffic law. A Code of Practice was published by the Department for Transport in July 2015, setting out manufacturing and testing standards which must be adhered to during the testing process.

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The Department for Transport believe that the UK is “uniquely positioned to become a premium global location for the development of [autonomous vehicle] technologies” and aims to facilitate discussions to amend international regulations by the end of 2018.

The CEO of The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, Mike Hawes, has stated that, “Britain is uniquely placed to become a global leader in connected and autonomous vehicle development; technology that has the potential to generate around £51 billion for the UK economy, save 2,500 lives and generate 320,000 jobs.”

  1. There are many benefits to embracing driverless vehicle technology

The benefits of autonomous driving technology include improved road safety and social inclusion, reduced emissions and congestion, increased productivity and economic advantages.

The UK Department of Transport, explains that “human error is a factor in over 90% of collisions”. A lack of concentration, misjudgement of other drivers, impatience, or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol are common causes of road accidents. Autonomous vehicles can avoid accidents by removing the variable of human error. Driverless cars are fitted with sensors to monitor their surroundings as well as a laser on top of the car to obtain a 360-degree view, farther-reaching than the human eye.

Autonomous cars will likely be initially introduced as a taxi or shuttle service. Driverless car services will become readily available at a lower cost than driving a personal vehicle, giving the passenger additional discretionary time, mobility to the elderly or disabled and rendering car parks redundant.

It is predicted that there will be a rapid roll-out of autonomous car services due to the competitive nature of the market. Companies such as Uber are said to be aiming for a driverless fleet by 2020 and are developing their research around this technology.

The connected nature of driverless cars will enable communication between vehicles as well as interacting with the roadside infrastructure to reduce congestion and fuel consumption and improve journey times.

  1. There are still some autonomous driving issues to tackle

In order to facilitate the switch to driverless cars, certain issues still need to be resolved.

Questions regarding local and international driving regulations, insurance liability, safety, data protection and privacy are still in discussion. The UK Department of Transport hopes to amend national legislation by 2017.

A sophisticated and maintainable mapping system will be necessary to enable driverless cars on a global scale. Currently, autonomous vehicles are only engineered to withstand sunny conditions or light rain, with much development still required to navigate harsh weather conditions such as snow, or rough terrain.

Understanding driver behaviour is key to ensuring autonomous cars are safe. This is where telematics providers such as MyDrive Solutions can contribute to the development of driverless technologies. Google averages 10,000 – 15,000 miles of autonomous driving on public streets each week to gather data on human driving behaviour.

  1. The future: A driverless road network

The UK is preparing for a connected road infrastructure, where roads, bridges and tunnels will join the ‘Internet of Things’. Systems which are already in place to provide weather, traffic updates, GPS information and entertainment to drivers will become a building block to a “smart vehicle network”, says the Department of Transport.

In the US, Google is at the forefront of driverless car innovation. They have collaborated with automotive partners such as Bosch, FRIMO and LG Electronics, to create an autonomous car prototype which is currently being tested in the city streets of Mountain View, CA, Austin, TX and Kirkland, WA.

Google provides monthly reports on their autonomous driving tests. In February 2016 they reported to have driven 1,452,177 miles in “Autonomous mode” since the start of the project in 2009, which is equivalent to 75 years of driving experience on the road (based on a typical American adult driving about 13,000 miles per year).
“In coming years, we’d like to explore other cities that can teach us about different types of challenging weather and terrain. We’d also like to run small pilot programs with our prototypes to learn what people would like to do with vehicles like these,” says Google.

Google, however, is not alone in the race to commercially launch the first fully driverless car. Leading electric car manufacturer, Tesla, is planning to develop its current Autopilot system which enables partial automation of the car, into fully autonomous capabilities. Founder, Elon Musk, told Fortune magazine in December 2015 that Tesla is approximately two years away from launching a completely autonomous vehicle, which, pending modifications to current road regulations, will most probably result in fully autonomous vehicles on public roadways by 2020. 

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