Let’s imagine the future of Christmas for a moment. It’s 2050 and you’re heading home for the holidays in an autonomous vehicle or a flying car. Your journey home is likely accompanied by Chris Rea’s classic tune ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ blasting out the speakers, while you merrily sing along. Some things will never change. The only difference? Instead of driving yourself, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the mince pies. Sounds like the perfect way to be stuck top to toe in tailbacks (sorry, the lyrics are just too good!).
The autonomous vehicle market is speedily evolving and it’s fascinating and exciting to follow the progress that is being made. Back to the scene. By this point, the windows have steamed up and the debate is in full swing – Musk, self-driving cars, what next, flying Ubers? We just can’t help being amazed by the idea. Everyone is talking about it, but will the dream turn into reality? And it should come as no surprise. I mean, you only have to flick through a newspaper to find a story about one of these topics any day of the week.
According to McKinsey & Co, investors have poured billions of dollars into the autonomous vehicle industry. The UK government is also getting up to speed with having driverless cars “operating safely” on British roads by 2025. Even Musk predicted Tesla would deliver fully autonomous vehicles by the end of 2021, but he made similar predictions in previous years that didn’t materialise. So, is this all just wishful thinking? Here are a couple of observations.
I take a look at the driver next to me, he’s just the same
It’s great to see the UK government committed to rolling out self-driving vehicles, but here’s the thing: they are not yet road legal – cruise control and self-parking don’t count I’m afraid. There’s certainly a lot more work to be done here, especially with ongoing safety and ethical challenges and we’ll see a lot more safety trials in 2023. Ultimately, that’s one of the key benefits of driverless vehicles in the long run – making our roads safer. Therefore getting the public behind the cause is very important.
Another small question is: will autonomous vehicle technology ever replace human skills? After all, self-driving vehicles will be responsible for sensing and navigating their surroundings (trees, curbs, parked vehicles, the road, and other objects). The human brain is tough competition – it can process entire images that the eye sees for as little as 13 milliseconds. And that gets to the crux of the matter. Driverless vehicles simply aren’t there yet. While there have been some great breakthroughs in sensor technology (camera, radar, ultrasonic, and LiDAR), it’s incredibly difficult with infinite variables that a driverless vehicle must learn, detect, and avoid while on the road. However, sensor technology is steadily improving.
It’s gonna take some time, but we’ll get there
As anyone working in the autonomous vehicle industry knows, it’s more of an evolution rather than a revolution. Much of the technology is already here – self-driving shuttles have and are being tested and deployed in controlled and low-speed environments such as airports. And autonomous technology in mining is becoming more widespread too.
What’s clear is that the mass adoption and rollout of self-driving vehicles can only be achieved through industry-wide collaboration. Car manufacturers, suppliers, autonomous vehicle developers, and big tech firms must work closer together if driverless vehicles are to become the future. Only then will we see the mainstream production of autonomous vehicles become economically viable.
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