To many motorists, the prospect of being joined on the road by vehicles without a driver still seems pretty barmy. Imagine it – stuck in traffic on the Dock Road with a car coming towards you where the ‘driver’ is not even looking at the road.
Actually, this hypothetical scenario may not be that much of a stretch, given the fact that motorists seem to be doing everything from checking Facebook to fixing make up to shaving while behind the wheel.
The reality is that there will be self-driving (or autonomous) vehicles in the near future in Ireland. The extent to that autonomy and when it will actually happen are the variables still at play here.
Renewed interest in the self-driving abilities of cars comes in the wake of the launch of the 2018 Audi A8. When it was unveiled earlier this year, much of the hype surrounding the German manufacturer’s fourth generation A8 has been around their promise to offer self-driving technology in the car.
The system they have developed operates full self-drive in select conditions up to speeds of 60km per hour, which seems ideal for motorists stuck in traffic jams regularly. However, there is one major problem – the technology is more advanced than the legislation, leaving Audi playing a waiting before they can fit such technology to their cars in the production process.
Elsewhere, Toyota will be unveiling its new Concept-i Ride later this week at the Tokyo Motor Show. Toyota are currently planning to roll out self-driving electric cars from 2020. Their entry into the market will use artificial intelligence to interact and even talk with drivers and passengers.
This process will allow the system for the two-seat pod car to build up a bank of knowledge and its user’s habits, preferences and even emotions. It will make for a nice change from motorists shouting at their unresponsive cars. The i-Ride will be driven by a joystick as opposed to the usual pedals, and Toyota claim that it will have a battery power range of up to 168km.
While these developments from Toyota and Audi demonstrate an interest from the motoring industry in autonomous vehicles, it is worth remembering that it was not the industry that led the charge. Indeed, many commentators have argued that the long-term effects of autonomous vehicles that will be booked, just like a taxi is, to come to your house and collect you will spell the end of individual car ownership.
Instead, the push for the introduction of such cars has been driven by Silicon Valley. Google kicked it off back in 2009 with their self-driving project. Their cars have even been out on public roads for testing purposes. Apple are also in on the game, and just last week, new videos of their creation ‘The Titan’ have surfaced on social media.
Transport Minister Shane Ross was quizzed during the summer on just how ready Ireland is for testing self-driving cars. He said that the EU target to have fully autonomous vehicles by 2019 was “an ambitious target.” He has met with the likes of the representative body ITS (Intelligent Transport Systems) Ireland, who have outlined six levels of automation, ranging from ‘No Automation’ to ‘Full Automation’.
To what degree Ireland and Europe will permit driverless cars is still clouded in uncertainty, but there are clearly some advantages to such vehicles.
In all seriousness, advocates for self-driving cars argue that they will greatly reduce road crashes, as well as potentially providing a more consistent mode of transportation for people with disabilities. Sceptics question the ability of the software to be reliable or the lack of human intuition that will see everything as an obstacle that requires stopping for.
The future is coming. The question is ‘When?’