Driverless cars: The future of driving?

Written by AMT Team

5 December, 2019

Automated technology was once a myth found in sci-fi films, but recent leaps in technology have made driverless cars even closer to becoming a reality. With manufacturers and organisations continuing to invest in and develop the futuristic technology, it’s never been more important to familiarise yourself with autonomous vehicles – particularly as they’re set to reduce car crashes, congestion and emissions on UK roads.

As it stands, nearly ten million cars with self-driving features will be on the road by 2020, with companies like Mercedes, BMW and Tesla having already released or set to release self-driving cars over the next few years. But what does a driverless society really look like? Our blog asks why we need autonomous cars, whether they’re safe and when we can expect to see such models on the road, to help you get up to speed with a driverless society. 

What is an autonomous vehicle?

An autonomous vehicle is a car that can navigate its environment and operate without human involvement. This means that no human is required to take control of the vehicle at any time, or is even required to be inside it. They rely on sensors, actuators and machine learning systems to operate at the same level as other cars, and are able to follow orders and drive itself around. They are considered a good way to reduce traffic congestion, cut transportation costs and reduce CO2 emissions. 

There are five different levels of automation in technology that help determine how close to a driverless society we are. The Society of Automative Engineers classify these as follows: 

1 – Driver assistance. This is when the vehicle is controlled by the driver but may automate some driving assist features, such as steering or braking – but not both at the same time.  

 

2 – Partial automation. This is where the car has combined automated functions like steering and braking, but the driver must remain engaged and monitor the road at all times. 

 

3 – Conditional automation. Certain circumstances allow the car to handle most aspects of driving and the driver can take their eyes off the road, but is still required to take control of the vehicle at times without notice. 

 

4 – High automation. The vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions under specific conditions. 


5 – Full automation. The car can handle all driving functions under all conditions, although the driver may still control the vehicle if needed. 

With the growing increase in autonomous driver assistance features yet distance from implementing fully driverless cars, we’re currently between level two and three on the scale. Some manufacturers are trialling self-driving cars but at the moment nobody is sure what the future of autonomous vehicles really looks like, as our infrastructure will need to change substantially to accommodate the new technology.

Are we ready for autonomous cars?

One of the most important questions to answer when looking at the future of a driveless society is whether we’re ready. A recent market report from AutoTrader highlights the reservations drivers have towards autonomous vehicles, with 80% of consumers reported to be wary of using a car, taxi or bus without the safety of a human driver. Despite concerns, the movement towards vehicle automation is gathering momentum every day.

When asked which brand consumers considered to be the most reliable when it comes to autonomous driving, the majority of respondents (79%) deemed Mercedes-Benz the most trustworthy when it comes to autonomous driving features, while most trusted Audi to develop a fully autonomous car (81%). According to the survey results, the five most reliable brands when it comes to fully driverless cars were: 

Although 49% of consumers are reported as being uninterested in fully autonomous technology, a growing focus on alternative fuels brings rapid development in the car industry overall – including advanced semi-autonomous functionality and driver assistance features. Currently, 31% of consumers say they have at least one semi-autonomous feature in their car, while 78% of those say they used the system regularly. 


This level of automation is set to gradually increase in the UK, with the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) investing up to £25 million to trial self-driving cars, but may be met with concerns around the safety of driverless vehicles.

Are fully autonomous cars dangerous?

As with all new technologies there are dangers around fully autonomous cars that need to be taken into account. Although auto experts and car manufacturers believe that the future of transport includes self-driving vehicles, many people are concerned about the safety of unregulated driverless technology. A recent report published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders claims that driverless cars could prevent 47,000 serious accidents and save 3,900 lives in the next decade, but others have highlighted the following dangers: 

Road accidents: Self-driving cars will have to navigate existing highways and streets, but our current infrastructure has not been built with this technology in mind. Autonomous cars will also have their capabilities programmed in a software, meaning they are unable to navigate sudden changes such as weather or road sign updates – this and drivers comfort in taking their eyes off the road could lead to an increase in road accidents.

Vehicle hacking: Like any technological device, self-driving cars can be hacked. This would compromise the safety of riders and could lead to an increase in car thefts. There’s also a chance that the system would malfunction and lead the car to drive unpredictably or stop suddenly, which would be extremely dangerous while travelling at high speed. 

One of the leading arguments for car automation is that the driverless systems won’t be subject to human error, meaning it’s programmed to obey all speed limits and focus on the road at all times. Autonomous cars will utilise a range of sensors and software to build a comprehensive picture of the road, while software systems will make real-time decisions about how the car will navigate in relation to other vehicles, pedestrians and buildings.

This connectivity will have significant implications for insurance companies. Paul Stacy, EMEA Automotive Director, looked at where connected car technology, including autonomous vehicles, could be in five years time. He said: “ In five years’ time every single new car will be connected, regardless of the brand. 

 

“We’ll see 12 milion cars in Europe grow to 24million connected cars. This means the volume of connected car data coming into the market is on a steep trajectory.The breadth of services and icons appearing on vehicle head units will increase and that means the ecosystem of third parties providing services to drivers will grow significantly.

Connected car tech will fundamentally change the vehicle ownership lifecycle to the benefit of customers. There is increasing pace and interest between car makers and insurance providers to engage consumers with driving behaviour information, collision detection and other programs that connectivity enables.”

 

In fact, many cars on the market today are installed with autonomous driving features to benefit from this technology, while still requiring drivers to make conscious decisions about how they handle the road.

Are there any autonomous cars on the market today?

Although automakers are working to offer advanced driver-assistance systems, we’re still far away from offering fully autonomous cars. There are no legally operating fully-autonomous vehicles in the UK, but there are models on the market with varying levels of self-automation thanks to safety features like brake assistance, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning. If you’re looking to experience a level of automation in your next car, check out the following models:

  • Tesla Model S: The Model S brings automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, forward collision warning and traffic-aware cruise control, among other technologies across the range. All Teslas also come with advanced software capable of providing Autopilot features, thanks to an advanced forward-facing rader and surround cameras. 

 

  • Audi S4: The S4 comes with turn assist, adaptive cruise control, stop&go function, adaptive cruise assist, hold assist, trailer maneuver assist, active lane assist and the AI traffic jam pilot, which takes over the task of driving in a traffic jam on behalf of the driver – although drivers will need to remain alert. 
  • BMW 7 Series: New BMW models come kitted out with ConnectedDrive, which offers active cruise control, lane control assistant, traffic jam assist, lane keeping assistance, lane departure warning, lane change warning and active protection.

At the moment, driver assist features provide audible or visual alerts if they sense a potentially threatening situation, while some even take action to apply the brakes or steer a car to avoid a collision. While they can primarily be found on high-end cars, they are available to some extent across all markets. 


At AMT, we’re committed to providing a quality service that’s bespoke to you. If you are looking for a new car and want to learn more about the driver assist features on offer, contact our dedicated team today to discuss your requirements on 0113 387 4241.

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