If we’re honest, loads of us like to catch at least a few minutes of celebrity ‘reality’ TV shows and do a bit of lifestyle daydreaming.
It’s the same with the world of autonomous or ‘driverless’ cars. Even if they were allowed on public roads, they’d currently be way too expensive for most people to buy, but it’s still amazing to have a nosey at what’s going on with them.
It’s a bit weird but true to think that our grandkids or probably even our kids will grow up in a society where driverless vehicles will be whizzing around all over the place in everyday life. Accidents and traffic jams will be a thing of the past, eBay bargains will be delivered by drones, and even people’s grannies will be experts at summoning on-demand bubble cars to take them to the shops.
Sometime in 2019, here before we know it, a fleet of autonomous vehicles will be unleashed in normal human-driven traffic on roads between Oxford and London. Most of the different autonomous pods being tested at the moment in places like London, Milton Keynes and Bristol look like something out of Star Trek, but plenty of other exciting and more normal-looking stuff is happening right now.
Real families in the London area are currently being recruited for a project called Drive Me, where they will be given the keys to specially adapted versions of the gorgeous Volvo XC90 SUV, fitted with loads of data-gathering and sensor technology. They’ll experience what it feels like to be driven to various preset destinations in everyday traffic without touching any controls. How cool is that?
Ocado, the online food shop, has teamed up with Oxbotica to trial driverless delivery vans that will light up each customer’s numbered compartment on arrival – ‘10’ illuminating when the Prime Minister’s house is reached, for example. A bit like Carrot’s own tech, Ocado’s existing vehicle-to-vehicle system will continuously monitor vehicle speed, and their system will additionally monitor fuel consumption and traffic flow to find the best routes.
People into gaming on custom-built PCs will know the name NVIDIA, who make graphics cards. They’ve recently signed deals with Audi, Bosch, Mercedes, Tesla, Toyota and Volkswagen, who are all keen to use NVIDIA’s DRIVE PX2 platform and Xavier chipset to make driverless cars a reality as soon as possible.
In Sweden, technology that has been tried and tested in mines is now being fitted to driverless Volvo dustbin waggons, which will collect households’ rubbish until the end of the year in a special project.
Next month in Russia, the country’s first driverless juggernaut will transport a real customer’s cargo on normal roads between Moscow and St. Petersburg. The Americans developed driverless HGVs first, though, and tech like this is designed to sort out the world’s truck driver shortage.
The Chinese city Zhuzhou has been picked for the launch of a bus-train mashup called the ‘smart bus’, which will use white dots and sensors to guide its way around. Okay, it’s sad that bus, train, taxi and other drivers will eventually be replaced by computers, but one flipside is that technology doesn’t go on strike.
More amazingly, Italdesign and Airbus showcased their zero-emissions flying car concept at this year’s Geneva Motor Show. Using vertical take-off and landing technology similar to a Harrier jump jet fighter, they say flying cars will ease congestion in the world’s most crowded cities.
Focussing back on driverless cars that look much more like we’re used to, Ford and Uber have pretty much cracked it in America where autonomous Ford Mondeos have successfully covered squillions of miles.
Car automation is split into 6 categories. The higher the number, the more autonomous a vehicle is, with 6 being fully driverless. Cars that park themselves are already quickly becoming the norm and would be scored 1 or 2. Even at level 3, human passengers still need to be alert and ready to take over.
The tech for categories 5 and 6 already exists, proven by companies like Audi, Mercedes and Bosch, but the vehicles are too expensive to mass produce. Also, huge parts of our societies from physical roads and the insurance industry, to laws, jobs and even people’s attitudes will all need to change before driverless vehicles are everywhere. Oh, and people probably won’t own or even lease cars in the not too distant future anyway, but that’s another whole hot topic on its own.
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