Self-driving cars, until recently, were a phenomenon saved solely for sci-fi films. Yet over the past couple of years, car manufacturing companies have begun focusing their sights on the vehicles of the future.
With studies predicting up to 15 per cent of new cars sold in 2030 will be fully autonomous, it’s unsurprising to hear that traditional industry leaders and disruptive innovators such as Google and Apple are currently working on making this trend a reality.
However, as with any development in consumer culture, action will need to be taken to ensure people engage and embrace the technology. Moving from traditional driving to allowing a vehicle to transport you from A-Z with no human interaction will prove daunting for many. Automotive businesses therefore must consider ways to instill trust with drivers. This is where partial autonomy comes in.
The path to partial autonomy
Partial autonomy does exactly what it says on the tin. Rather than producing self-driving cars and immediately expecting consumers to be comfortable with the vast step-change, the introduction of technological advances should be staggered. This is especially important when you consider the adoption rate of fully-autonomous vehicles must be widespread.
Manually driven cars sharing the road with self-driving vehicles won’t work – as advanced as this technology might be, it can’t react to the unpredictable behaviour of drivers responsible for 81 per cent of collisions. For example, a device which recognises indicators on vehicles when mapping out its route on a roundabout would not respond to a vehicle turning off without indicating first. With this in mind, below are four technologies currently in development which will prove vital on the path to autonomous vehicles.
- Congestion assistance
For many, traffic jams are the most strenuous part of their journey. Not only does congestion often result in lateness, but also strains the driver’s nerves and elevates the risk of crashes. Safety is seen as one of the major benefits of autonomous vehicles and technology which removes both the stress associated with traffic jams and the chance of drivers being involved in rear-end collisions must be embraced.
The technology ensures the vehicle adheres to safe following distances at all times, utilising cameras within the car and satellite information to give an all-encompassing analysis of its surroundings. This equates to a relaxed journey for the passenger while the car safely guides itself through the congestion. This type of experience will build trust in autonomous vehicles and should be taken into consideration by all automotive manufacturers.
- Parking support
Another major bugbear for many drivers is parking, especially in particularly tight spots in built-up areas. Research has suggested motorists spend approximately 106 days looking for a parking space in their lifetime, but this may soon be a thing of the past. Technology has been developed by Ford which sees a built-in device scan automatically for available parking spaces, creating a crowdsourced map which is available to any driver using the tool.
Building this further, technology is currently in development which will enable drivers to delegate parking to the vehicle itself. Cameras provide the vehicle with a 360° view of its surroundings while sensors provide alerts if hazards are too close. This removes the stress of parking in particularly difficult spaces and speeds up the process considerably. This is the type of partial autonomy which will ensure consumers are on-board with the idea of self-driving vehicles before they are available for purchase.
- True cruise control
Another safety feature automotive businesses must consider is offering a true cruise control ahead of the rollout of fully autonomous vehicles. With human error playing such a predominant role in all traffic accidents, a system which drives the car without human interaction for large stretches of road, such as motorways, will increase safety almost immediately.
Using 360° cameras and sensors will manage congestion and parking automatically. Drivers will be able to relax while the vehicle navigates its way along the motorway, responding to changes in speed limits and traffic levels without any prompts. The technology would then notify drivers when they are coming to the end of the motorway and will need to retake control of the car. Professionals travelling to meetings could read through critical documents, while consumers can relax while their vehicle tackles lengthy, monotonous stretch of road.
Removing this burden from driving would certainly build support for autonomous driving – and quickly.
- Smartphone driving
As there are now officially more mobile devices in the world than people, it’s unsurprising to hear it is now possible to drive a car using a smartphone app. What started life as an exciting car chase in Tomorrow Never Dies has come to market, with Jaguar Land Rover creating an app which facilitates just this. The app enables drivers to accelerate, steer, reverse and brake at the touch of a screen and although it will be a long time until it is legal for this to be used on a motorway, it does support off-roading as users don’t need to be in the car while “driving”.
This means avid off-roaders could walk alongside their car as it moves, checking for any potential obstacles which can’t be seen from behind the wheel. This is exactly the type of partial autonomy which needs to be embraced by manufacturers to showcase the benefits of self-driving cars to the public at large.
It’s clear autonomous vehicles are the future of transport, with development underway at all industry leading car manufacturing businesses. However, to ensure partial autonomy technology is successful and offers a seamless transition between traditional driving and the autonomous experience, software development experts have a vital role to play.
The expertise these businesses have in delivering disruptive innovation to the mass market must be utilised to ensure the products sit well with both tech-savvy consumers ready to embrace self-driving cars and those who are wary of accepting such a large step-change. To attempt such innovation without expert software development consultancy will leave these projects in a very precarious position - one which could prove difficult to come back from.
If partial autonomy isn’t taken seriously and consumer trust isn’t gained ahead of the launch of self-driving cars, automotive businesses could see what should be a transportation revolution turn into nothing but financial failure.
Josie Byrne, automotive director of Black Pepper Software
Image Credit: Shutterstock / chombosan