“It will be 10 to 15 years before you can get into the back of the car and read a newspaper”
BRUSSELS, Belgium – President Barrack Obama’s motorcade, abetted by the limousine cavalcades of his G7 leader colleagues and non-stop rain, bought traffic to a standstill here this week, making those stranded in their cars or diving into the underground railroad system for relief wonder whether computer controlled cars might one day make this aggravation a thing of the past.
News of Google’s autonomous car, which can transport two passengers around at speeds of up to 25 mph with the computer controlling the steering wheel and brakes, has set off speculation about just when this technology will be available.
Could it be with us in less than 10 years?
“Yes,” says Peter Fuss, Germany based automotive specialist from the EY consultancy.
Fuss told the annual Automotive News Congress here that so-called autonomous driving will arrive in less than 10 years, spurred on by safety and comfort benefits.
“No,” said other assorted experts at the conference, led by Volvo, who reckoned 10 to 15 years was more likely.
Nobody thought the computer controlled car was pie in the sky.
Peter Mertens, senior vice-president at Volvo Cars Corp, said many of the basic technologies have already been developed, including systems like radar cruise control, which keeps a constant speed on the highway and slows the car down when it approaches a slower car. The selected cruising speed will be reinstated when the computer senses the coast is clear. Other techniques already in use include “city-brake”, now standard on many Volvos, which takes control of braking from the driver when the computer senses an imminent crash at speeds under 20 mph. Computerized parking, and “steer assist”, a system which senses that the car will go out of control unless curbed, are becoming commonplace. It’s really a question of developing and consolidating these systems, Mertens said.
On its drive towards autonomous cars, Volvo will have 100 cars in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2017, which will be able to drive around known routes without input from the driver.
These cars will take specially selected and trained customers on selected routes, although it’s not clear why they need to be selected or trained if the computer is doing all the work.
“It will be 10 to 15 years before you can get into the back of the car and read a newspaper,” Mertens said.
Volvo is experimenting currently with cars which park themselves automatically, but which also recognize actions not directly related to the parking. This allows research to take place under restricted and safe conditions. Mertens said humans are good at recognizing danger, but poor at reacting and the industry needs to merge these two worlds.
“The technology to control cars is still pretty weak, given the scale of possibilities presented by real world driving,” Mertens said. Accidents are currently 95 per cent the result of human error, but it is not known how many accidents are thwarted by skilful drivers.
Karlheinz Haupt from Germany’s Continental AG said as the technology develops, highways are likely to divide traffic into three sections – one lane for fully automated vehicles, one for highly automated ones, and the other for partially computer controlled vehicles. Haupt said the process will be evolutionary, not revolutionary. He said 2016 will see the first partially automated cars, with fully automated ones arriving from 2025.
The EY consultancy said autonomous cars will also accelerate the change in the way people own cars, driving what it called “different integrated mobility systems” like car sharing, and ideas about offering car rentals for shorter distances as part of the public transport system. EY pointed out autonomous driving makes sense to cut road accidents, now the 8th leading cause of death globally, and to curb the two time increase in car driving delays expected from congestion by 2050, when 6.3 billion people, or 70 per cent of the world’s population, will live in towns and cities.
EY’s Fuss also left the congress with a chilling thought, which reminded the industry players that it will have to hang tough at some point during the introduction of computerized cars.
“The first autonomous to kill will have a tremendous negative effect,” Fuss said.