From ‘horse­less’ to ‘driver­less’

The evo­lu­tion from “horse­less car­riages” to “driver­less cars” demon­strates the pace and scale of au­to­mo­tive tech­nol­ogy.

Finweek English Edition - - COVER MOBILITY - By Glenda Wil­liams edi­to­rial@fin­week.co.za

the ex­tent of the rev­o­lu­tion in lo­co­mo­tion is some­thing that even the au­to­mo­bile’s pi­o­neers would un­doubt­edly not have been able to en­vis­age, the pace and scale of au­to­mo­bile de­vel­op­ment tak­ing us from “horse­less” to “driver­less” in just over a cen­tury. The leap from horse-drawn car­riage to com­bus­tion­pow­ered ve­hi­cle first im­pacted South Africa in 1896 with the ar­rival of the first “horse­less car­riage”, a Benz Velo, im­ported by a lo­cal busi­ness­man. It was fol­lowed by a Ford 1903 Model A and Henry Ford’s leg­endary, mass-pro­duced Ford Model T.

That, though, is yes­ter­day’s news and to­day it is more about do­ing away with the driver than it is about do­ing away with the horse. Self-driv­ing cars are to­mor­row’s re­al­ity. Au­ton­o­mous-driv­ing (AD) ve­hi­cles may not yet be avail­able to the masses, but they are al­ready be­ing tested on the road.

These tech­no­log­i­cally gifted cars are ex­pected to make trav­el­ling eas­ier and safer, the num­ber of ve­hi­cle fa­tal­i­ties and crashes ex­pected to be sig­nif­i­cantly min­imised.

AD tech­nolo­gies in­clude ad­vanced sen­sor tech­nolo­gies, su­per­com­put­ing with ex­ten­sive use of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence sub­sti­tut­ing hu­man per­cep­tion and un­der­stand­ing of the en­vi­ron­ment.

“Highly au­ton­o­mous cars and ev­ery­thing they con­nect to will re­quire pow­er­ful and re­li­able elec­tronic brains to make them smart enough to nav­i­gate traf­fic and avoid ac­ci­dents,” said Brian Krzanich, CEO of tech­nol­ogy leader In­tel.

It’s a two-fold goal, self-driv­ing and with that crash­less cars.

Ac­cord­ing to KPMG’s re­port Self driv­ing cars: The next rev­o­lu­tion, dis­trac­tions ac­count for 18% of crashes with in­juries, 11% of drivers un­der the age of 20 in­volved in crashes with fa­tal­i­ties re­port­ing dis­trac­tions.

To re­alise its vi­sion of con­nected, au­ton­o­mous driv­ing, BMW has teamed up with In­tel and com­puter vi­sion­ary firm Mo­bil­eye to bring fully au­ton­o­mous driv­ing to the streets by 2021.

The goal is to en­able drivers to not only take their hands off the steer­ing wheel, but to reach level 3 “eyes off”, level 4 “mind off” – trans­form­ing the driver’s time spent in the car – and even the fi­nal stage of trav­el­ling with­out a hu­man driver in­side, level 5.

Ford’s in­ten­tion is a high-vol­ume, fully au­ton­o­mous SAE level 4-ca­pa­ble ve­hi­cle in com­mer­cial op­er­a­tion in Man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Volvo Cars SA 2021 in a ride-hailing or ride-shar­ing ser­vice.

“We’re ded­i­cated to putting on the road an au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle that can im­prove safety and solve so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges for mil­lions of peo­ple – not just those who can af­ford lux­ury ve­hi­cles,” said Mark Fields, Ford pres­i­dent and CEO.

Ford has tripled its au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle test fleet of Fu­sion Hy­brid sedans to 30, mak­ing this the largest test fleet of any au­tomaker.

Re­cently pro­duced in Swe­den is Volvo Cars’ first fully au­ton­o­mous Volvo XC90. It’s the first of 100 self-driv­ing XC90s that form part of the Drive Me pro­gramme where 100 real cus­tomers will pro­vide real-world feed­back to Volvo en­gi­neers.

Volvo Cars and Uber have also part­nered in a $300m project to de­velop next-gen­er­a­tion AD cars, Volvo also part­ner­ing with au­to­mo­tive safety sys­tems leader Au­to­liv Inc to de­velop next-gen­er­a­tion AD soft­ware.

Tech­nol­ogy com­pany Google has logged over 1.8m miles in a fleet of self-driv­ing cars, but the car­mak­ers now ap­pear to be out­pac­ing the for­mer AD leader. Tech­nol­ogy ri­val nuTon­omy is also nip­ping on Google’s heels, soon to test its self-driv­ing fleets of Re­nault Zoe elec­tric ve­hi­cles on spe­cific streets in Bos­ton, US.

Tesla Mo­tors Inc could have its nose ahead in the AD race, all of its cars now com­ing with full self-driv­ing hard­ware, only soft­ware up­dat­ing and reg­u­la­tory ap­proval pre­vent­ing a win on the fin­ish­ing line.

The de­vel­oped world is likely to en­joy a driver-free ex­pe­ri­ence far sooner than us, Ford SA con­firm­ing that there is no tim­ing or con­text for au­ton­o­mous cars lo­cally.

But South Africans are al­ready ben­e­fit­ting from the mul­ti­tude of semi-au­ton­o­mous-driv­ing fea­tures like adap­tive cruise con­trol, col­li­sion warn­ing, lane de­par­ture warn­ing and lane-keep­ing as­sis­tance, cross-traf­fic alert, driver mon­i­tor­ing and au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing fit­ted in many of the coun­try’s premium cars.

“Volvo Cars’ ex­ist­ing semi-au­ton­o­mous-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy (Pi­lot As­sist), launched in the lat­ter half of 2016, is prov­ing ef­fec­tive in the South African con­text – the sys­tem is com­pat­i­ble with South African road mark­ings, al­low­ing it to work just as well as it does in Europe,” Volvo SA MD Greg Maruszewski tells fin­week.

Semi-au­ton­o­mous-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy is al­ready mit­i­gat­ing risk of crashes and con­tribut­ing to the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence be­ing a more hands-off and re­laxed one… that is, un­less you suf­fer angst at giv­ing up con­trol.

Tesla’s self-driv­ing demon­stra­tion. The car does the driv­ing and the driver is only in the seat for le­gal pur­poses.

BMW’s con­nected, au­ton­o­mous-driv­ing car, the BMW i Vi­sion Fu­ture In­ter­ac­tion.

Greg Maruszewski

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