When will we have driverless cars?

Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about car companies building more and more autonomous cars, i.e. cars that can drive themselves and do not require a human to take control. This requires the car to sense and react to its environment and navigate to its destination without human input.

So, you’re asking, when can I buy my first self-driving car and kick back on my daily commute, having breakfast and doing my makeup instead of getting annoyed about the traffic?

Predictions vary – the Antiplanner forecasts that by 2020 cars that can drive themselves under most conditions will be available, with an option for override by a human driver. By 2030 most new cars won’t have rearview mirrors, horns, or emergency brakes, and by 2035 they won’t have steering wheels or acceleration and brake pedals either according to Wired.

This infographic shows a detailed breakdown of predictions from a variety of sources – click for full size:

autonomous_driverless_car_infographic_predictions

 

What else will change?

  • Cars will communicate with each other. This will allow them to create road-trains which reduce drag and therefore fuel consumption. Also, if the first car breaks, it will instantly notify all the cars behind it, helping avoid accidents.
  • There will be new car designs, e.g. cars won’t need a windshield any more.
  • Also, our roads might look very different soon as they become smarter too. There are some amazing concepts around already, including:
    • Electric roadways. A futuristic open-source project is the TEV (Tracked Electric Vehicle System), aiming to create a network of electronically powered roads for electric vehicles which are centrally controlled. Simpler forms or electric roads are already being tested in Sweden and South Korea.
    • Solar roadways. Watch the video for some of the things these could do:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlTA3rnpgzU
  • Once a few other problems are solved, having fully autonomous cars might help make it more feasible to introduce a variety of flying cars too.

 

Advantages and disadvantages

Autonomous cars mean:

  • Fewer accidents
  • Faster travel times
  • You will be able to do other things on your trip, e.g. work or play with your kids, increasing productivity and happiness
  • More people can use cars (e.g. children, elderly, those with disabilities)
  • Less car theft as each vehicle can be tracked
  • Less environmental impact through central coordination & optimisation (e.g. sharing cars, road-trains)
  • Reduced costs as there is less need to own a car; you can order one instantly at the touch of a button through your phone with no need for maintenance

Under the bonnet
What still has to be figured out:

  • There needs to be very rigorous testing before driverless cars can be used to make absolutely sure they’re safe in a wide variety of scenarios
  • Ethical decisions will have to be made regarding deciding between two possible accidents (see here and here for great articles on the topic)
  • Safety, which is already becoming an issue with smart cars, will need to be improved as more autonomous cars are more vulnerable to hacking

 

Some drawbacks:

  • Less privacy as the “system” knows where you are at all times, especially if cars communicate with each other
  • Individual cars will be more expensive as they contain more technology
  • Laws will have to change e.g. to determine who is at fault in an accident

Let us know your thoughts

What do you look forward to most with autonomous cars?
Do you have any concerns about them?


 

Like this post? Check out our full Future of Transport series.

 

connected-cars

Sources

Pictures

Information

  • Davies, A (2014) “In 20 Years, Most New Cars Won’t Have Steering Wheels or Pedals” on Wired. Available online.
  • McLaughlin, D (2014) “17 Ways Driverless Cars Could Change America” on The Federalist. Available online
  • Nielsen, D (2013) “Automotive Active Safety Systems” in Illumin volume XV Issue II. Available online.
  • The Antiplanner (2014) “Wait Six Years to Buy Your Next Car”. Available online.