Autonomous driving was one of the key topics at this year’s Paris Motor Show.
While major manufacturers like Ford, Mercedes, BMW and Volvo are testing self-driving cars in controlled environments, companies like Tesla already have cars with some autonomous driving functions on the road. These have, however, also recorded their first accidents due to autopilot failure, and it’s thought full autonomy in environments like cities is still years – if not decades – away.
“Next year we will start seeing it on production cars on sale on the forecourt, where you can let go of the steering wheel for up to 30 seconds and the car will drive itself on the highway, for instance. And it is going to move forward in stages. They are predicting that every five to ten years the driver will be allowed to give up more and more functions, to the point where maybe in ten to fifteen years they will be able to sit back and let the car do all of the work,” says Jim Holder, editorial director of automotive magazine Autocar.
In the meantime, companies are investing heavily in the connectivity of their cars and new traffic monitoring services. A driver-less car will dramatically change the way the car looks, but also the human relationship with the vehicle.
The question is whether drivers are ready to give up control?
“It is coming,” says Jim Holder. “But there is a real argument among the manufacturers about how much control they should give up. How much the car should do and how much the driver should do. There is a legislation issue of course – if there is an accident then who is to blame? But there is also a debate about whether a car is still a car if you give up all control over it.”
Outside the Motor Show, on the streets of Paris, opinions are divided over the future of self-driving cars.
“It’s evolution. Why would I want to drive to the office and focus on the road when I could be reading a newspaper or a book or catching a nap while the car drives me home? I think it’s amazing,” said Vikas Kannev, a technology consultant from Amsterdam.
“The way things are today, I don’t trust this kind of vehicle. It’s up to the manufacturers to prove it’s possible in the years to come. But for now, I prefer driving myself,” said 29-year old Romain Lopez.
Singapore, then, is not a place for him. The world’s first self-driving taxis are already picking up passengers on the island, with the ultimate goal being to have a fully self-driving fleet by 2018.