Autonomous Driving Receives Royal Seal of Approval

A report by Thatcham Research has outlined its predictions for the future of autonomous driving.

This is very timely given that the Queen has outlined in parliament today, the Modern Transport Bill which will focus on the development of the autonomous car.

Starting with what technology is included in cars today, the Thatcham study goes on to suggest a roadmap of future functionality which will see driverless cars take to the roads of the UK by 2025.

In essence they argue that almost without noticing, we have started on the journey to autonomous driving. Do you agree?

Assisted Driving

In-car technology had moved on significantly in the past few years. These days most new vehicles are fitted with cameras and radars to monitor hazards ahead and are programmed to apply the brakes in case of a likely hazard the vehicle. Crucially however, the driver remains in full control.

Take Volvo's Pilot Assist for instance. This system can drive the car at reduced speeds controlling the steering, acceleration and braking. It operates at speeds up to 30 mph and will continue to operate as long as the driver proves he or she is still in control by keeping their hands on the steering wheel.

By 2018 cars are expected to become a lot smarter with even more advanced driver comfort as standard. Given this advancement, regulations will be expected to permit hands-off driving on motorways which is almost unthinkable now. However the driver will still have ultimate responsibility and should be prepared to take over controls in case of unexpected situations or system failures.

On motorways, some cars are predicted to have an 'auto pilot' function integrated, automatically driving the vehicle and allowing hands to be taken off the wheel for around 3 minutes at a time. After this time the system should warn the driver that they need to re-engage with the car in some way; usually by placing their hands back on the steering wheel.

If this fails to happen the system will disconnect and the car will perform a minimum risk manoeuvre to bring itself to a controlled safe stop. Again, as now, the driver remains in control.

Automated Driving

By 2021 things start to get really interesting. Thatcham hypothesize that, on defined segments of motorway, the car will be able to take complete control. This means the driver will be able to disengage completely and to do other, unrelated and more time consuming tasks such as reading a newspaper!

The technology to facilitate this will include a full sensor pack including radars, cameras and laser scanners enabling a picture of immediate road information to be processed - and intelligent responses planned. Such a vehicle would also likely be equipped with high specification Advanced Driver Assistance Systems to aid the driver at the times when they are in control.

By 2025 the driving landscape is expected to be, by comparison to today at least, almost unrecognisable. By this point Thatcham suggest that the car will be able to drive itself, fully hands free from door to door. Wow.

By Tracey McBain