It’s likely you will have heard of the tragedy that befell one of Uber’s efforts to test a self-driving vehicle in the USA.
This served to heighten debate on this highly contentious issue.
The UK Government has signalled an intent to make diesel and petrol cars obsolete by 2040, leading to renewed interest in the next generation of vehicles. Electric cars will become the norm in the next couple of decades.
But what form will the best cars of the future take? Will they be so sophisticated that the driver is largely redundant?
Government earmarks funding
The UK Government has recently announced the winners of its £51 million competition to “develop world-leading self-driving car testing infrastructure”.
It has selected four projects that will test the safety, speed and potential of creating British CAV (connected and autonomous vehicles) systems. In a nutshell, the aim is for the UK to lead on this globally.
However, CAV prototypes are already a common sight on Silicon Valley roads and many companies appear to be fine tooling the tech, in preparation for being the first to manufacture a commercially viable model.
Accidents to delay self-driving cars?
The automotive technology sector is now waiting for the outcome of the investigation into the road death in Arizona.
The Uber test car’s sensors did not process the data generated by a woman crossing the road on a bicycle. The preliminary investigation found the sophisticated technology did register that the woman was there but failed to trigger the systems needed to stop or even slow the vehicle.
Uber admitted to disabling its emergency braking system. The reason it gave was to provide the driver with a more comfortable ride and avoid “erratic vehicle behaviour” from multiple stops and starts.
This clearly leads to concerns that safety could still be compromised if driverless cars brake repeatedly.
Nor is this an isolated incident. Before that, trust in autonomous vehicles was rocked when a self-driving bus in Las Vegas “crashed” within an hour of starting its official duties.
What is the next step for self-driving cars?
The incident in Arizona added weight to the argument that driverless cars will never be able to respond quickly enough to the vagaries of everyday life on normal roads. There are many people who believe that machine learning systems can’t be sufficiently sophisticated to respond to every likely situation when humans are around.
However, these fears are not deterring the automobile technology companies. In fact, following the fatality in Arizona, Uber has already begun planning further testing for self-driving cars later in 2018. It is waiting for the US National Transportation Safety Board to give the go ahead.
The joy of being in control of the best cars
For some drivers, this is all a moot point. Though the commercial benefits of autonomous vehicles are clear, from an individual’s perspective they hold limited appeal.
For some car owners, having the newest gadget is a must. They may want to buy or lease CAV cars to test them out.
However, for many car owners and leasers, the joy is in getting behind the wheel and being in control.
Whatever the future holds for the technology behind cars, the act of driving will continue to be cherished by many, particularly in the latest model of car.
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