Much has been written over the last couple of years about the driverless car. You climb aboard, set your destination and your vehicle transports you there safely and securely while you read a book, do some work or listen to music. It sounds fantastical but we are not actually that far away from it becoming a reality.

Testing is taking place in various places around the world this year, including the UK. It’s being led by a range of different companies and there’s some healthy competition going on. There are a lot of challenges to overcome, as you might expect, including how you legislate for these vehicles once they do hit the road.

According to some sources, however, driverless cars have the potential to disrupt and change our whole future.

Who is Developing Self-Driving Cars?

  • Tesla is one of the companies at the forefront of self-driving cars and their hope is to get a viable model on the road by the end of 2018. It may be a tall order but the company has already had interest from Uber to buy a fleet when they do get approved
  • Google’s parent company, Alphabet, are out to develop and launch their Wyamo model. In America, they’ve been at the forefront of trying to get the government to review the Federal laws in respect of driverless cars. They’ve not put a set time on when their model will be ready but some insiders expect it to be good to go by 2020
  • It’s not just tech companies that are jumping on the band wagon. Car firm Toyota has invested over a billion dollars in developing the software tech that will eventually run their driverless cars
  • BMW is developing its own All-Electric i3 concept and hopes to have a working vehicle ready by 2021, while Volvo is hedging its bets and hoping to produce a semi-autonomous vehicle. Ford, General Motors and Nissan are also creating their own cars

Insurance companies have had something to say about driverless cars – they believe, if the technology works it will help to lower the rates of accidents and cut insurance premiums in the process.

What Are the Challenges?

Convincing consumers is going to be one of the major hurdles that driverless cars will need to overcome. If you are travelling at 70 mph down the motorway most people would be a little reluctant about giving control over to a machine, especially with ‘unproven’ technology. Will drivers want to use these cars or would they prefer a vehicle that has both facilities? Many of us enjoy driving but might like the car to take over when we’re stuck in a traffic jam.

We already have AI technology in our cars, helping us to park and making driving more efficient in regards to fuel consumption. Driverless is a step up and will need a range of internal and external hardware and software to make it work. Make no mistake, this is a huge undertaking beyond the production of a single vehicle.

Another challenge is how you handle road infrastructure when there are a mix of driverless and traditional vehicles. Will there be certain roads or areas where driverless cars can’t be used? What happens when two driverless cars hit each other? Who is responsible?

The Future of Self-Driving Cars

Uber showing interest in buying driverless cars has raised an interesting point for many industry experts. It could lead to a situation where buying a car is less likely in the future. All we will need to do is go online, hire a fleet car and let it drive us into work. It could reduce the amount of traffic and congestion and make finding a parking space in a busy city a thing of the past.

That may be a long way into the future, but the initial steps have been taken to creating an economy that uses driverless cars. While we are naturally reticent at the moment, once the infrastructure is in place you can expect self-driving vehicles to catch on.

The immediate future will have to see the creation of legislation which can handle permissions for when a driverless car can be used, how those vehicles are going to interact with the current ‘normal’ cars, and what happens if there is a collision. Added to this is the fact that there are several different manufacturers working on cars at the moment, so how do we ensure that they work with each other?

A driverless car has already been tested on the hallowed streets of Milton Keynes and there are plans to take the tests out onto motorways this year. Previous Chancellor George Osborne made money available for it in one of his last budgets, saying:

“Driverless cars could represent the most fundamental change to transport since the invention of the internal combustion engine. Naturally, we need to ensure safety, and that’s what the trials we are introducing will test.”

Written by Anna Lemos