Tech trends for 2015: The driverless car

Google and Volvo have long been trialling self-driving cars but with the UK government now investing in robotic cars, 2015 sees the technology gain traction…

“Cars that drive themselves […] represents the most significant transformation in road travel since the introduction of the internal combustion engine.”

Year on year, the automotive industry has continued to innovate; take the eco-powered car and the early success of electronic cars for example, and 2015 will be no different, as motoring and tech experts make inroads with driverless cars. From reducing accidents, lowering energy usage and supporting emission compliance, driverless cars could change the process of driving forever  researchers are even working on devices which will automatically park your car in a car park without you being in, or near, the car.

Rather unsurprisingly, tech giant Google was one of the first to enter the driverless car market with its ‘Google Chauffeur’-powered self-driving car headed up by the founder of Google’s Street View tool Sebastian Thrun. Google’s activities match that of car manufacturer Volvo which has been working on autonomous car devices in its home country and already has five prototypes out on the roads. As smart technologies advance further, it’s predicted that other tech firms and manufacturers will follow suit with Cisco having predicted in its recent report that, as an extension of Internet of Things, robotic cars will “transform and shape lives” by 2020.

While it may appear that driverless car projects have all been focused overseas, self driving technology is now moving closer to home. The government-backed Centre for Cities announced this month that it is to begin trialling autonomous cars with four “smart cities” chosen to pilot the cars. Tests will begin in Bristol, Greenwich, Coventry and Milton Keynes on January 1 2015. Set to explore the ways in which Britain can maximise the opportunities that arise from self-driving cars, each city will explore the benefits and limitations of the technology; Greenwich will focus on emissions, Bristol will look at issues such as insurance, while Coventry and Milton Keynes will be doing the real tests on the roads as part of the government’s £20m UK Autodrive project.

Despite the government’s investment in self-driving vehicles, it’s probable Volvo and the like will win the race in getting driverless cars to the production line as the Centre for Cities predicts its research could take between 18 months to three years to complete.

How it works

Given the name, you might expect “driverless” cars to mean just that but they’re not “driverless” in the typical sense as a person has to be in the driver’s seat while the car takes control of steering wheel, gearlever and pedals and drives itself using a range of technologies and computer programming. This process gives the user free time to concentrate on other things like reading a book, checking emails or catching up with a TV series  think of it as a train commute but in a car.

When it comes to the exact technology, it’s extremely advanced. Google’s driverless cars are said to use over $150,000 worth of technology, including a laser which can generate a detailed 3D map of the car’s environment, even identifying how high traffic lights are, which in turn produces different types of data models so the car can drive itself.

Nick Jones, lead technologist at Innovate UK, asserts that while an exciting trend, making sure driverless cars are “road ready” is central:

“Cars that drive themselves would represent the most significant transformation in road travel since the introduction of the internal combustion engine and at Innovate UK, we want to help the UK to lead the world in making that happen.

“There are so many new and exciting technologies that can come together to make driverless cars a reality, but it’s vital that trials are carried out safely, that the public have confidence in that technology and we learn everything we can through the trials so that legal, regulation and protection issues don’t get in the way in the future.”

Volvo’s head of business sales, Selwyn Cooper, continued:

“Autonomous cars aren’t here yet, but they’re on their way. When autonomous cars arrive, they will revolutionise business travel, giving drivers a more comfortable, productive commute and transforming the car into a true mobile office. They will also promote more efficient fuel use, reduced congestion and, crucially, safer roads.

“The all new XC90, due in 2015, moves this on with automatic reversing into a parking bay. This car will also be the first in the world to feature automatic braking if the driver turns in front of an oncoming car. 

“Businesses have a few more years to wait for driverless cars – as well as the technology, road traffic and insurance laws needed to change. So while we won’t see fully driverless cars in 2015, at Volvo, components of them are already a reality and delivering huge benefits to businesses all over the world right now.”

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