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Technology to eliminate driver from the equation already exists

One thing that may drive development of self-driving cars is artificial intelligence

“My personal guess is that by 2030 we will have most of the cars being capable of self driving under some circumstance – but not in all traffic conditions,” says Dr Ziebart.

“My personal guess is that by 2030 we will have most of the cars being capable of self driving under some circumstance – but not in all traffic conditions,” says Dr Ziebart.

 

Autonomous taxis and cars that seek out car parking spaces and park themselves may seem like technology of the future, but it could be closer than you think. The technology to eliminate the human driver from the equation already exists, for some scenarios at least.

Manufacturers from Ford to BMW have been developing self-driving cars with one eye on the future. Ford said it will have a fully autonomous car by 2021.

Mercedes has a number of autonomous concept cars, from the S Class S 500 Intelligent Drive and the F 015 Luxury in Motion to the Future Truck 2025.

Tesla, meanwhile, has an autopilot mode that changes lanes without drivers steering, summons the car to and from a parking spot, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping technology and other helpful technology.

Meanwhile, Alphabet-owned Waymo is looking at expanding its fleet of self-driving vehicles to Europe, with the possibility of an autonomous taxi service at some point in the future. Earlier this year, it was announced Jaguar would supply up to 20,000 I-Paces, the manufacturer’s fully electric car, to Waymo for its self-driving car fleet.

The benefits are often lauded. Autonomous cars should be safer, thereby cutting road accidents and deaths; at the less important end of the scale, it could help with traffic jams, with autonomous cars less prone to sudden braking than human drivers.

But it may take some time for regular motorists to adapt to the future of driving.

“There will be a certain transition phase,” said Dr Wolfgang Ziebart, Jaguar’s director of engineering.

“The driving in a self driving car will eventually be significantly more secure than being driven by a human. The machine as of today is supporting the driver very well and can prevent a lot of accidents already. With more sophisticated sensorics, algorithms and software, I think maybe we will come to a stage rather quickly where people rely on the systems.”

Driver assistance systems, although only used for limited times and under specific circumstances, may lead to cars becoming autonomous through the back door, Dr Ziebert said.

“There are basically two directions which eventually lead to cars being able to drive fully autonomously. One is by traditional car manufacturers – they target driver assistance systems. It’s about reducing incidents and accidents. Driver Assistance Systems act as the next step after seatbelts and airbags – lane departure warning develops into lane keeping; adaptive cruise control develops into jam assist, stopping and restarting. The system becomes more and more capable.

Huge progress

The second path, he says, is those that target self-driving cars right away – no steering wheel, which means no human driver behind the wheel.

“However, with the tech we have as of now, you cannot let these cars openly drive everywhere – they can only drive in restricted areas,” he says.

This could mean replacing shuttle bus services in airports with self-driving cars, or having them available for use in closed communities.

One thing that may drive the development of self-driving cars more quickly is artificial intelligence.

“Huge progress has been made in recent times, mainly on algorithms,” Dr Ziebart said. “AI is about to bring a huge step forward in autonomous vehicles, particularly in object recognition.”

But there is still work to be done to help the technology along. While technologies such as GPS have become less important for positioning when applied to autonomous cars, it relies on a range of other markers such as road signage and markings, things that in Ireland at least may still need some work.

The image of autonomous cars has taken a knock in recent times, with a number of incidents involving the vehicles bringing the public’s attention to the trials taking place in the US.

“My personal guess is that by 2030 we will have most of the cars being capable of self driving under some circumstance – but not in all traffic conditions,” says Dr Ziebart.