With the widespread availability of driverless cars becoming ever-closer, the way we travel is set to be revolutionised. Whilst many people are keenly awaiting the launch of automated vehicles, there is one issue which has, perhaps, been overlooked.
Although some see driving as a chore, many consider driving to be one of life’s great pleasures. Whether it’s enthusiastic owners who painstakingly modify their vehicles, speed fiends who want to feel the engine roar when they put their foot down or casual drivers who enjoy relaxing behind the wheel, the allure of driving is undeniable. When cars no longer need a driver, however, will we be as satisfied? Is technology set to enhance our vehicular experiences or will increased automation leave drivers and the automotive industry at an impasse?
Let's take a look at what driverless cars mean for the future and just how quickly automated vehicles are becoming a reality…
Whilst fully automated cars can operate without the need for a driver’s input, this isn’t the only option when it comes to driverless cars. Currently, the Society of Automotive Engineers identifies six different levels of vehicle automation. Whilst consumers may want to opt for a fully automated car in the future, there will be other options available too. Partially automated cars, for example, will require some driver control and will not operate completely autonomously.
However, even a fully automated system will allow drivers to stay in control, if they choose to. Although technology is continually changing our driving experience, car manufacturers realise that consumers will still want to drive and won’t want to be reliant on an automated vehicle at all times. Designed to increase our choices, rather than replace the driving experience, drivers will be able to use the embedded automated systems when they want and will be able to opt to drive when it suits them. Rather than stripping away the pleasure of driving, automated cars will simply provide drivers with more choice when they get behind the wheel.
Without the need for driver input, automated vehicles will allow drivers to focus their attention elsewhere. If you currently spend two hours commuting each day, you’ll be able to use this time to catch up on work or prepare for upcoming meetings, for example, rather than staring at the traffic in front of you.
Alternatively, if you use your time in the car to relax and unwind, you’ll be able to take this to a greater level. Whilst driving, you may enjoy listening to the radio but with a driverless car, you’ll be able to use your laptop or your phone as well. In addition to benefiting passengers in the short-term, driverless cars are also likely to produce less pollution than traditional vehicles. Although not all automated vehicles will be hybrid or fully electric, many will and this will reduce the negative impact on the environment. Similarly, we may not need to be in our vehicles for as long when using driverless cars. Designed to adapt to their surroundings, automated vehicles will predict traffic patterns and respond accordingly. Rather than wasting fuel by continually accelerating and decelerating, as a human driver might, driverless cars will offer a smoother ride and reduce traffic congestion, rather than adding to it. With fewer emissions, reduced amounts of pollution in the air and less traffic on the roads, the global carbon footprint is set to be reduced.
Whilst we may be hesitant to rely on driverless cars, the roads are expected to be much safer once automated vehicles are introduced. In the US, for example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that over 90% of collisions are due, at least in part, to human error. With artificial sensors, radars, and cameras all working in conjunction, the possibility of human error can be greatly reduced. Whilst a momentary lapse in driver concentration could result in a tragic accident, the technology behind driverless cars will be in operation at all times, thus reducing the risk of an accident occurring.
In addition to this, the damage caused by wilfully reckless drivers is likely to be reduced by the introduction of automated vehicles. Currently, drivers who travel at excessive speeds, use their mobile phones behind the wheel or operate a vehicle whilst under the influence of alcohol are breaking the law and increasing the risk of someone being injured or killed on the roads. Despite strict laws, people continue to drive dangerously. In a driverless car, however, their conduct will not pose a risk to other road users and the rate of accidents should be reduced as a result. Whilst we may be somewhat reluctant to relinquish our control behind the wheel, it seems that the roads could be significantly safer if the number of human drivers is reduced and technology is allowed to reign.
Whilst road safety is of paramount importance, technological security is also vital when it comes to automated vehicles. The vast amounts of technology used within driverless cars has left many wondering if they are vulnerable to cyber-attacks or hackers.
Indeed, with the apparent increase in the rate of cyber-attacks and the tendency for well-known companies to be targeted, the security of automated vehicle systems is a crucial part of the development process. Whilst driverless technology is being designed and developed in order to be impenetrable, it’s likely that security will be an on-going concern for tech experts and car manufacturers. Whilst current car owners may take their vehicle for an MoT or service every year, owners of automated vehicles may also need to update their software in order to keep their car safe and secure.
Once stuck in the realms of science fiction, driverless cars are now a reality. Having already undergone testing, automated vehicles are now being trialled around the world. In the UK, for example, shopping companies are using driverless delivery cars on small estates in order to test their efficiency.
With trials on public roads to be completed by the end of the year, driverless cars are expected to be available to consumers within the next five years. Whilst there is much to be done in terms of legislating the new form of transport, the technology could be rolled out as quickly as 2018.
The development of driverless cars has already created increased jobs and specialties within the tech industry and this won’t stop any time soon. Whilst many IT companies are working on automated vehicle software in-house, car manufacturers are also hiring the best talent to work on bespoke software and systems. For independent IT contractors, the possibility of cross-industry projects is only set to increase as demand for driverless vehicles grows. Development is well underway, although there is still a wealth of possibilities for IT professionals who want to work at the forefront of the industry. The rise of embedded software and artificial intelligence in the automotive industry, for example, will mean that the top employers are scouring the tech industry for contractors with expertise in these areas.
Although driverless technology may not be readily available to consumers just yet, it won’t be long until automated vehicles are a standard feature on our roads. Indeed this is an exciting prospect for car manufacturers and consumers alike, the technology industry is never at a standstill. As we await the launch of driverless cars, tech leaders and IT professionals are already envisioning what lies beyond automated and autonomous vehicles. With a new era of technology dawning, it’s these AI experts, embedded software specialists and IT professionals who will determine what are future looks like and just how quickly it will arrive.
Felicia is an entrepreneurial startup enthusiast and content contributor towards software engineering and all things technical. Anything related to jobs, career, leadership or talent - chances are that she already covered it.