Will self-driving cars take over the roads or be left in the dust?

Industry news

Will self-driving cars take over the roads or be left in the dust?

7th July 2021

Decades ago, driverless vehicles only existed in our dreams or dystopian sci-fi films. But today they are fast becoming a reality!

Although most of the mechanical hardware needed for fully self-driving cars is already built into many existing cars, the technology has certainly come a long way.

In just a short amount of time, engineers and software developers have discovered how to work the kinks out. Now they’ve brought this concept to life!

In GM’s (General Motors) 1939 exhibit, Norman Bel Geddes showed off the first-ever self-driving car. It was an electric vehicle that used radio-controlled electromagnetic fields, made up of magnetised metal spikes in the road.

The new development consisted of sensors named pick-up coils that could detect current passing through wires under the road. These sensors controlled the steering wheel and allowed it to be manipulated either left or right.

When we compare this to the technology we have now, it isn’t that exciting, but this discovery was way ahead of its time! By 1958 however, the project had come to fruition. 

By 1977 more self-driving technology arrived from Japan. The Japanese implemented a camera system that sent data to a computer that would process images of the road. Although the vehicle was capped at around 20mph, the technology was there.

Ever since this innovation, most self-driving cars have relied on this technology and implemented cameras and sensors to ready the roads and identify all obstacles.

Now you know the origin of self-driving cars, do you think they will be a thing of the future or just a temporary fad? Let’s look at the facts first…

Is your car already autonomous?

Tesla

Almost every single new car has some level of automation.

Whether that be parking assistance, lane-keeping technology or even complete driverless movement.

Cars cannot be self-driving under current legal standards. For example, with the autopilot on a Tesla, you have to keep your hands on the steering wheel.

If you take your hands off the wheel, the car instructs you to put them back on!

Talk to me about tech!

AB Dynamics recently ran simulations to test common overtaking manoeuvres.

In these scenarios, “swarms” of vehicles were used to help develop the vital tech and software. The tests brought good results and showed a lot of promise.

All of these cars carried out similar common manoeuvres to understand how they would play out in real life. The data collected is then fed back into a system for analysis to understand how to best improve the technology.

What this research showed is that technology can safely understand and react to the actions of other cars around it. This means it can almost instantaneously decide if a manoeuvre is safe to do so or not.

The cars have full control over braking, acceleration and movement, meaning it is independent of human intervention.

How far are we from autonomous cars?

On top of this testing, there are more serious developments going on across the pond. Waymo is Google’s self-driving car project which started in 2009. They have since been the front runner in the driverless car race.

Just recently, they took their cars out of the testing phase and made them available to anyone who downloaded the app. Yes, that means passengers were actually able to get a lift without a human driver in the front seat!

They work pretty much like any other digital taxi service. Just click where you want to go, where from and boom, your robo-chariot awaits! This is only currently available in Phoenix (USA) for now, but with Google leading the way, we expect self-driving cars to make their way to the UK soon.

Considering everything we already know, along with the demand for driverless cars, they could be on our roads by the end of the year! 

Government plans suggest that we’re already on our way to making that a reality. The only thing holding us back at the minute is regulation.

Are they legal?

Current legal frameworks do not currently permit self-driving cars in the UK. However, with the exit from the European Union, the UK government has started consultation on allowing self-driving cars with max speeds of 70mph.

How can they flourish?

For self-driving cars to flourish in the UK, the safety they provide must be constant. For that to happen, more tests will need to be carried out. Furthermore, the possibility of communication between self-driving cars would decrease the chance of accidents massively.

Fully self-driving cars will (or at least try to) take over and become safer and safer every year that goes by. However, only time will tell.

We get that many Brits will be reluctant to give up control of their car at first, but many of these vehicles look to follow in the footsteps of current AutoPilots. This technology still allows the driver to take back control of the car whenever they want to.

We believe this is essential in order to ease people into the future of self-driving vehicles. In addition, for them to be a success, first the public has to trust the technology and this could take a while.

However, the rollout for this innovation couldn’t have come at a more convenient time. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the public are now hesitant to share vehicles with strangers.

As long as we get past the laws and people can get behind the idea of an empty car picking them up, autonomous vehicles could be dominating the roads very soon.

It is also a possibility that due to the move away from ICU cars by 2030, as set out in the PM’s green plan, that the majority of these vehicles will be fully electric, which is something that DSG are in full support of and we cannot wait to see how this unfolds.

Early adopters

Many large companies around the world are already looking into the possibility of utilizing the available technology to streamline their work. 

From Amazon who filed a patent in 2015 for autonomous lane switching technology, to Apple who already employs 70+ self-driving vehicles for employee transportation on the roads in California.

The fact that many of these companies are not necessarily the ones you would expect to see investing serious capital into research and development speaks volumes about the potential of this venture.

We would love to hear your thoughts on the introduction of autonomous vehicles. Are we ready for them? Will the technology work or are driverless cars destined for disaster?

Let us know your thoughts on social media below. In the meantime, If you are looking for a new car before the self-driving counterparts come to market, look no further!  Contact our Unity team here to see if they can help you out.