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