The road ahead for driverless cars and autonomous transport looks to be bumpy
In the last two centuries, transport has transformed dramatically. For millennia, humans relied on horses and boats to navigate the earth. But then came the invention of the seam-powered locomotion and eventually the early car, some 200 years ago.
During the early twentieth century, the impossible became the possible: humans could finally take to the skies. The Wright Brothers, two American inventors, created the world’s first successful aeroplane. We’re now on the cusp of a new transport revolution, and it’s spurred by automation.
Within the next few years, driverless cars and other automated modes of transport are set to take over the world. Companies such as Google, Uber, Tesla and Toyota are all experimenting with this innovation.
The technology is certainly there. Automated transport is already being tested on our roads, and many ambitious companies, executives and other industry titans want to make it the norm by the 2020s. But are we actually ready for this tech?
The biggest issue surrounding autonomous transport, especially in the case of cars, is safety. If this technology is going to be taking over our roads, skies and seas, then it surely has to be kept in check at all times. Anything could go wrong if the technology were to malfunction. Humans are currently in control of cars, ships and planes, and can step in should a disaster scenario come to fruition.
Dermot Kelleher, director of marketing & business intelligence at Motors.co.uk, says that safety and affordability are two of the biggest concerns for manufacturers when it comes to developing automated cars and other modes of transport. They have to prove that this innovation is fit to enter the real world.
“Fully autonomous cars are set to hit the roads in 2019, but semi-autonomous driving is already with us today. Many models released in the last five years include self-driving features, like automated parking, cruise control and lane assist,” he explains.
“The main issues for manufacturers are safety and affordability. Recent consumer studies suggest that people trust tech firms more than traditional car manufacturers, and Tesla has also found that driving using its autopilot feature in the United States is 50 per cent safer than a human controlling the journey.
“Human error causes 94 percent of road accidents, according to the Association of British Insurers, so driverless cars could arguably save lives, yet the first autopilot Tesla car death this year may have set some alarms ringing. Manufacturers will need to prove their cars can correctly identify human behaviour, such as hand signals made by cyclists, and fairly price these vehicles, in order to win the public’s trust.”
Security is another challenge for the manufacturers and regulators of smart transportation. Driverless cars, in particular, rely heavily on connected sensors and solutions. And because of this, they’ve become a lucrative target for cyber criminals. Jeep has already demonstrated the severity of these threats. In 2015, the company’s research team hacked into a Cherokee model as it was driving at over 70mph on an American road.
Alex Matthews, EMEA technical manager at information security firm Positive Technologies, says developers need to take a new approach to security. “Smart car developers provide a car with lots of sensors and controls but don’t consider how this ‘tech’ offers new ways to hack a car,” he tells Silicon.