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Driverless cars poised to transform automotive industry

Wednesday, April 1st 2015 - 08:26 UTC
Full article 17 comments
The F 015 'Luxury in Motion' concept car is completely self-driving but still has a steering wheel and brake if you want to swivel around and drive it manually. The F 015 'Luxury in Motion' concept car is completely self-driving but still has a steering wheel and brake if you want to swivel around and drive it manually.

The newest Mercedes autonomous car looks like a car on the outside but like a lounge on the inside, with four swivel seats facing each other in a multimedia bubble of padded leather and walnut veneer.

 The F 015 'Luxury in Motion' concept car unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year is completely self-driving but still has a steering wheel and brake if you want to swivel around and drive it manually.

Daimler, the maker of Mercedes and inventor of the original automobile, wants to be among the first to re-invent the car, CEO Dieter Zetsche said at the CES, which he says will become more than just a means of transport and will turn into a mobile living space.

German rival Audi, Tesla, Google and a number of other companies are working on their own versions of driverless cars, fulfilling the forecasts that they will be a reality on the roads perhaps as soon as the end of this decade.

In fact, all the technology needed for a self-driving car exists already. Current features like adaptive cruise control and self-parking preview what a fully autonomous car can do.

It is likelier to be legal and liability issues that slow down actual deployment. That and social acceptance of such a radical change could dampen the trend more than a lack of technology.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a recent interview, however, that the change in thinking could be no different than the shift from elevators manned by operators to today's completely automatic elevators.

There is little question that driverless cars will improve fuel economies not only because they smooth out the braking and accelerating of human drivers, but also because they improve traffic flow by finding optimal routes and mitigating congestion. The lower accident rate will mean fewer traffic jams from that cause as well.

Also, there will be fewer cars on the road because a single driverless car per family can take both parents to work, drop the kids off at school, pick them up afterwards and obviate the need for the two or three-car family.

A recent study from the University of Michigan suggests, however, that overall fuel consumption could increase because the cars on the road will get a lot more use. But of course that can be balanced out by greater reliance on non-fossil fuel energy to power the cars.

Stock market analysts are already talking about this evolution because investors looking at the big picture can put their money into the automakers and suppliers who are moving in this direction and who will have an important head start.

Along with Audi and Mercedes, BMW is on that list, as well as General Motors, Volvo and Toyota. Auto suppliers that are in this trend include TRW, Delphi, and Borg Warner in the U.S., as well as Europe's Continental and Japan's Denso.

This transformative automobile technology will be a game-changer for other industries as well, from software makers to suppliers of entertainment. As cars truly do become mobile living spaces, there will be new revenue streams as companies figure out ways to monetize the extra time people have in their cars (movies, music, games – the list goes on).

Car safety, but also cyber-security – nobody wants to have their car hacked - are issues that need to be developed and tested.

Tesla's Musk noted that driving in dense urban environments at intermediate speeds pose the greatest challenge for current technologies and these must be thoroughly tested before driverless cars are allowed on the road.

But the self-driving car is coming to a showroom near you sooner than you think.

By Darrell Delamaide of Oilprice.com

Categories: Energy & Oil, International.

Top Comments

Disclaimer & comment rules
  • Conqueror

    'It is likelier to be legal and liability issues that slow down actual deployment. That and social acceptance of such a radical change could dampen the trend more than a lack of technology.'

    I can see that. When the driverless car in front of you suddenly brakes and your driven car hits it, who's at fault?
    How many cameras in this driverless car? Any blind spots? Is the car still allowed to move if one of its £400 cameras isn't working? Do these cars have the technology to ask someone else to move?
    '
    Also, there will be fewer cars on the road because a single driverless car per family can take both parents to work, drop the kids off at school, pick them up afterwards and obviate the need for the two or three-car family'.
    And when they all have to be at 'work' or school at the same time?

    And for the people w2ho want to decide for themselves whether to turn left or right?

    Who uses a satnav? And those occasions when the road has been altered and the icon on the screen is in the middle of nowhere?

    And the servicing bills?

    Why don't they try this with commercial aircraft and ferries first?

    Of course, I forgot, drivers are more expendable.

    Apr 01st, 2015 - 11:21 am 0
  • inthegutter

    If manufacturers can demonstrate that their vehicles are “safe” (and I think they will be able to) I don't really see much of a legal problem. I think however it depends on whether the car is fully autonomous (essentially it's then just a taxi and all the liability lies with manufacturer) or can be driven (in which case it is more more complicated).

    For fully automated systems I think we'll move towards a system where you essentially just lease the vehicle (like your own chauffeured car) with the company leasing the vehicle responsible for insurance, maintenance etc. However, I suspect most people will use community automated vehicles. There will be a large pool of vehicles that can be called upon at any time, in times of peak demand you may have to wait. I imagine this community pool will eventually replace rural bus services as it will be more efficient and convenient (I can see pensioners being given a number of “free” trips each week instead of a bus pass).

    There are however a couple of remaining legal/moral issues, essentially the runaway trolley problem: should an autonomous vehicle change its direction (or whatever) to minimise casualties even if that means killing someone who would otherwise have been unhurt.

    Apr 01st, 2015 - 01:56 pm 0
  • Idlehands

    1 Conqueror (#)

    “When the driverless car in front of you suddenly brakes and your driven car hits it, who's at fault?”

    ...if you don't know the answer to that you probably shouldn't be on the roads.

    Apr 01st, 2015 - 03:03 pm 0
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