Driving a dying skill with cars poised to take over
Children born today may never need a licence to drive a car and their children may not even be able to drive.
That’s because within years — not decades — experts and manufacturers say cars will not need drivers . . . they will be fully automated.
The speed of the development of the automated car has gone beyond all expectations.
It prompted a Volvo executive to tell a recent Sydney conference that the company’s new vision was that no one would be killed in a new Volvo from 2020 onwards.
It is an extraordinary aspiration driven by the simple fact that driverless cars remove the biggest single cause of road crashes — human error.
The rise of the automated car is raising regulatory concerns, with most nations unprepared to deal with their arrival.
Though Australia has some regulatory oversight through its design rules and vehicle registration standards, the WA Government is waiting to see the nature of the technologies in driverless cars before taking further regulatory action.
Transport consultants ARRB believe Australian authorities have been caught flat-footed by the advances, despite the fact they are aware of the developments and had actively encouraged their growth.
Advances in driverless vehicle technology are happening worldwide and almost weekly.
A Google-backed project probably has the highest profile. It has built two-seat, electric powered, bubble-shaped vehicles with a top speed of 40km/h.
Former General Motors executive Larry Burns, who is working with Google, told an August breakfast that Perth’s road network was the ideal environment for driverless cars.
He said they could eliminate congestion and the demand for city carparking.
In the US, Tesla released a sedan last month with an autopilot function. It uses radar to detect other vehicles and has a camera that is capable of reading road signs and adjusting speed accordingly.
The car can guide itself but, like an aeroplane autopilot, requires human supervision. But Tesla chief executive Elon Musk believes self-driving technology will outpace the skill of human drivers within six years.
“I think we’ll be able to achieve true autonomous driving, when you could literally get in the car, go to sleep and wake up at your destination, ” Mr Musk said.
In Singapore this week, researchers and engineers from the National University of Singapore and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology have been ferrying passengers around the Chinese and Japanese Gardens in two driverless buggies.
At a press conference on Thursday, the project team revealed the buggies had new technology valued at about $30,000 and travelled at 10km/h around the 26.5ha gardens.
“We are confident that these buggies will provide the public with a safe and comfortable journey within the park, ” NUS collaborator Marcelo Ang said. “Mobility should be available to all — the elderly, young and the disabled.”
And last month, Audi unveiled its driverless RS7 at Germany’s Hockenheimring racetrack.
It reached 225km/h with no one behind the wheel.
In a detailed study to be released next week, the International Transport Forum has considered the implications of automated vehicles on the future of urban traffic.
It found that improved safety on roads was the biggest potential benefit of driverless cars.
“Driverless cars remove the element of human error, ” the study report says.
“There is a 90 per cent reduction in crash likelihood when drivers are removed from the equation.
“They (humans) are the worst because they make many avoidable mistakes, attempt to drive while incapacitated, are prone to speeding and misjudging the road environment and overestimate their capacity to handle the dynamic driving task.”
The report said automation could also improve traffic flow in cities, reduce parking needs, reduce driver stress and allow more optimal and intensive use of infrastructure.
But it said the uptake of autonomous driving meant “authorities will have to adapt existing rules and create new ones to ensure the full compatibility of these vehicles with the public’s expectations regarding safety, legal responsibility and privacy”.
The report said driverless cars were just part of broader trends toward automation and connectivity that could include drones, personal care robots, 3D printers and surveillance devices.
“Vehicles will change with growing automation, but so too will their role in society in ways that are hard to foresee, ” it said. “Policies should account for this uncertainty.” .
ARRB managing director Gerard Watson said there was no doubt driverless cars would improve road safety, reduce congestion and increase road transport efficiency.
Despite these benefits, Mr Watson said the introduction of driverless cars on roads would certainly generate a lot of public debate — perhaps even criticism.
“We know they will be safer — but the public may need some convincing, ” he said. “That all makes for interesting times ahead.”
CAN A CAR DRIVE ITSELF?
An automated vehicle must collect information, make a decision based on that information, and execute that decision. Information comes from vehicle equipment, and physical and digital infrastructure. The increasing ability for vehicles to sense, plan, act and communicate rests on a number of technologies, many of which are mature or are rapidly maturing.
ARE YOU FEELING LUCKY?
Google began building a fleet of experimental electric-powered cars earlier this year with a stop-go button but no controls, steering wheel or pedals. Google claims that the two-seater vehicle will revolutionise transport by making roads safer, and decrease congestion and pollution
Car will be summoned with smartphone application
Laser range finder Rotating sensor scans 180m distance through 360° to generate 3D map of surroundings
Video camera Identifies other road users, lane markers and traffic signals
GPS receiver Matches position with customised version of Google’s road maps
Windscreen Flexible plastic designed to reduce injuries
Radars Located at front and rear, detect proximity of obstacles
Front Foam-like material minimises impact in case of crash
Engine 160km-range electric motor – equivalent to one used by Fiat’s 500e
Speed Limited to 40km/h
Inertial motion sensors determine velocity and direction
SOURCE: OECD, GOOGLE
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