When will self-driving vehicles take over the road?

There can be no question about it, self-driving vehicles are on the horizon. But when should we expect fully autonomous cars to take over the road? And how will the industry, and the legislation that governs the industry take shape.

Self-driving vehicles are seen by many as the future of driving, and that reflects the large amounts of money that are being invested in the technology by companies around the world.

Autonomous self-driving driverless vehicle with radar on the road

In North America and elsewhere, Bosch has seen sales increase on the back of its acquisition of former joint venture ZF Lenksysteme Gmbh earlier this year.

Following the acquisition, the newly renamed Robert Bosch Automotive Steering GmbH appointed Ecodrive as its first UK commercial vehicle distributor of electronic steering systems.

Robert Bosch Automotive Steering GmbH has grown with automated driving at its core. One of its key missions moving forwards is to supply: “key components that pave the path to the automated, accident-free road of the future.”

In Britain, we are less down that road than in other countries. In the United States, major players like Google have already completed a million driverless car miles. The technology is beginning to gain traction over here as well though.

As industry trials start to accelerate, Volvo plans to run the largest self-driving experiment yet in the UK when a small fleet of around 100 semi-autonomous 4×4’s will hit the streets of London.

The Swedish carmaker expects to have driverless cars on sale here by 2020, and they believe that they will be able to shift them quickly.

The Guardian recently quoted Volvo’s Chief Executive saying that the top-end of the car market would be very receptive to driverless vehicles. He said: “a quarter of customers for premium cars would be very interested in the autopilot function.”

Others are more pragmatic with their predictions.

Kay Stepper, a vice president and head of the automated driving unit at Bosch told Bloomberg that the technology would be ready within a decade, but “it will take well into the next decade to convince consumers.”

Trust in self-driving cars is low. And negative attitudes towards them become more pronounced for older drivers, who we might realistically expect to be able to afford ‘premium’ driverless cars.

As time goes on, anxieties about these vehicles will soften. Especially when we consider the fact that a lot of the technology is already present on British roads today.

Semi-autonomous features like parking-assist and lane-assist are common in a lot of modern vehicles.

Who will buy driverless cars – professionals or professional drivers?

self driving trucksSome future gazers predict that demand for driverless cars will be driven by professionals and businessmen who want to respond to emails or sit in conference calls while they are commuting to work.

But there is another breed of customer who could realistically drive uptake of autonomous vehicles, the professional driver.

There are always certain groups and sectors that adopt new technology before others, and there are lots of reasons that the professional driving sector could adopt autonomous vehicles before others.

Taxi companies or haulage firms could save a lot on running costs if they didn’t have to employ as many drivers. They could also keep their vehicles out for longer, all day and night if necessary, if there was no need for the driver to rest.

Indicators show that certain multinationals are already looking into this kind of investment. Uber has reportedly sought a quote for the purchase of a 100,000 strong fleet of autonomous vehicles, to cut out drivers transform the taxi industry.

Amazon, meanwhile, has apparently looked into a self-driving fleet as a way of speeding up deliveries along the so called ‘last-mile’ to a customer’s house.

These functions work because they are carried out mainly on smaller public roads, in towns and cities. The applications for self-driving trucks, however are a little bit behind the pace.

One concern with the haulage industry is that experts believe the driverless technology is not yet suitable for high-speed driving on motorways. This is primarily where trucks do most of their driving, especially when covering longer distances.

Some self-driving lorries have been developed. Like this one below used to navigate tight tunnels on a mine site, where there are no other vehicles using the roads, so the technology has been better able to adapt.

In any case, drivers will have to stay on for the foreseeable future, in case anything does go wrong.

Industry insiders think of the technology as analogous to the auto-pilot feature on an aeroplane, where there is always a pilot to take control if something goes wrong, or if the driver comes up against a tricky stretch of road, like a motorway.

Other barriers to self-driving cars

Aside from the technological limitations of self-driving, there are other things that could hold back the autonomous road take over in years to come.

One of the biggest is the ethical considerations that will have to be tackled before cars can become fully autonomous (i.e. before the manual override is eliminated).

The ethical autonomy question notes that unlike humans that can react instinctively in an emergency, autonomous cars have to calculate its response to specific scenarios including possibly the choice between killing occupants or road users.

How self-driving vehicles should be insured is another cause for concern. As is the legislation governing self-driving cars. In the USA, for example, there is a battle raging between Google and legislators about whether the cars should have a manual override function. Google believes that its cars will be safer if passengers can’t take control of them. But state legislatures, notably in California, still have concerns about the technology and want ultimate responsibility to remain with humans rather than machines.