Delphi Automotive Expects Robot Cars In Five Years.
Cities Will Lead The Way.
“At the end of the day, technology won’t be the inhibitor, it will be the legal framework”
Delphi Automotive said the biggest barrier to the adoption of robot cars will be legal issues, not the technology itself.
Expect the first cars controlled totally by computers on the roads in cities within 5 years, but for the general public this could be maybe 10 years away.
Early adopters are likely to be taxi firms which will be able to agree technical parameters with city authorities. This will also be the route for the quick adoption of electric cars, because businesses can right-off the costs over a short-period.
Cities leading the way for so-called autonomous cars and electric ones could be Gothenburg, Sweden, or Singapore.
And millenialls, the 18 to 33 age group, are not a lost cause for the industry.
That’s the view of Jeff Owens, Delphi’s Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President.
In a telephone interview from his Detroit office, Owens also waved the flag for 48 volt electrical systems. Delphi, a leading and global supplier of high-technology systems for the automotive industry, has been testing 48-volt, hybrid technology in a Honda Civic. Delphi says this “mild” hybrid maximises the use of electric power to minimize strains on the engine and can improve fuel economy by more than 10 per cent.
The first Delphi car powered by its 48-volt technology could be in production by the end of 2017.
Automotive manufacturers have made great strides in automating almost all functions, but it’s the final 5 per cent which might be the hardest hurdle to jump. For instance, a robot car would be able to handle all kinds of physical decisions for braking, steering and avoiding other cars, but how would it handle a situation where a legal decision was required? A vehicle being blocked by a cyclist in front and a double line in the middle prohibiting overtaking would require a value judgement to break the law.
Owens doesn’t think this problem is insurmountable and could be solved with powerful algorithms which would be able to peer ahead to make sure the coast is clear.
“At the end of the day, technology won’t be the inhibitor, it will be the legal framework,” Owens said.
Owens said vehicle connectivity which allows cars to talk to each other and share data is building up ahead of full autonomy to improve safety and avoid accidents.
“Vehicle control algorithms will be ready to take on all kinds of problems including that cyclist example. Already cars like the Mercedes S class (top of the range sedan) and the Audi Q7 (SUV, and Tesla Model S) allow you to set the auto pilot on the highway which allows hands-off driving. The driver will still be keeping watch, but it helps for a relaxed experience,” Owens said.
Weeks not years
“The first autonomous vehicles will probably be taxis. That could happen in 5 years because the regulatory environment is a little easier. It takes between 5 and 8 years to significantly change national traffic regulation, but in cities or municipalities this change can take weeks not years; the legal framework is much simpler if a vehicle is for hire rather than owner driven. There are still liability issues but easier and narrower ones. For companies you can amortize the expense over two or three years rather than the 10 to 12 years for consumers,” Owens said.
“This model also works for electric cars. A two year payback can justify the electric vehicle or electrified drive-train for a business. There are two different markets really, he said.
“Connectivity used to be just entertainment, now it’s vehicle to everything literally really connected to everything like the infrastructure and providing cloud based information that will help a safe journey,” Owens said.
Owens had more good news for the industry with the opinion that millennials, said to be so disinterested in owning cars that the future was threatened, were after all going to be buyers.
“Millennials will be buying cars, but they will be delaying until later in life, and when they do buy, they will want something different. They are more interested in safety and the ability to experience their digital life-style with less emphasis on power. That’s good news. We were worried they were never going to buy cars,” Owens said.
Owens said Gothenburg in Sweden or Singapore in Asia might well be the first cities to try and ease heavy traffic density as an excuse to open up driver-less car fleets.
Owens doesn’t see a very rapid adoption of electric cars, and said that by 2025 about 95 per cent of cars will still be powered by internal combustion engines (ICE), with one big difference.
“One out of very 10 cars sold globally in 2025 will be 48-volt, mild hybrid, that’s 11 million units a year – three times the volume of pickup trucks sold annually and more than half of the world’s anticipated diesel car market,” he said.
Owens said a full hybrid adds about $3,000 in cost. A mild hybrid with the 48-volt system will cost between $1,000 and $1,200.
“You get 70 per cent of full hybrid for 30 per cent of the costs. The system gives you better launch ability and makes the engine run more efficiently and runs in the sweet spot for longer to take the load off the engine and improve fuel economy,” Owens said.
But Owens does concede that all the hopes for robot cars and new technology developments depend on one big imponderable.
“The biggest question is, how much will consumers pay not to have a driver,” he said.