Driverless cars- how long before they are on the road? - 12/06/13

Driverless cars- how long before they are on the road?

The development of driverless cars has been identified as a key priority by the United Kingdom’s government, with the vision of making the country a ‘world centre’ for the technology. The UK government is offering £10 million to a town or city to be used as a testing ground for driverless cars, whilst it is hoped that a fleet of driverless cars will be on the streets of Gothenburg, Sweden by 2017. 

The University of Michigan is collaborating with business and government to make the town of Ann Arbour the first town in the United States to have a shared network of a fleet of driverless cars by 2021.  The team at U-M believe that cars will one day be part of a re-imagined transportation network system and a $6.5 million, 30-acre driverless car test site has been approved which “will simulate a dynamic cityscape where researchers can test how the vehicles perform in complex urban settings”. Larry Burns, a Michigan engineering professor states the 1.2 million car-related deaths a year as the key motive to develop self-driving cars. “There has to be a way in which cars can move around and not crash. We know the algorithms exist…  We’re developing cars that don’t crash.” 

 Marcin Szczepanski/Senior Multimedia Producer, University ofMichigan, College of Engineering
Marcin Szczepanski/Senior Multimedia Producer, University ofMichigan, College of Engineering

Are these plans for self-driving cars overly ambitious? It is likely that the technology will be ready but outside factors will hold it back. Car manufactures will have to work closely with government as decades of road-safety legislation has to be altered or overturned all together. Dave Cole of the Centre for Automotive Research in Michigan believes that due to America’s litigiousness that driverless cars will emerge in another country first. Accidents involving driverless cars will grab headlines and it may take some time to convince the public of their safety. It is not only engineers and lawmakers that need to concern themselves with this emerging technology; town planners and property developers, will at some stage also have to think about how driverless cars will shape the towns and cities of the future.

As well as the ‘assisted driving’ technologies already being introduced to new car models, a technology that once seemed confined to the realm of sci-fi films has already completed 500,000 miles of road testing in the United States. A driverless car has also recently made its first venture onto public roads in Japan, while countless tests have been performed on private land around the globe.  Whilst it is likely that the technology will be ready within the next decade, the cars will have to wait while the world adapts around them. 

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