Nothing says ‘science fiction’ quite like a car that can drive itself and the idea of an autonomous car has been the futuristic calling card of Hollywood films for many years, from Total Recall’s Johnny Cabs to Mr Incredible’s on-the-move costume change.
Self-driving cars could soon become science fact. The unrelenting pace of technological advancement means that consumers may have an autonomous car in their driveway by the end of the decade, and almost every carmaker you can name is racing to be the first.
Before then though, some legislative changes need to be finalised and it’s likely that driverless cars could be on UK roads before any other country.
Britain has always been supportive of the technology and encouraged car manufacturers to test vehicles here and invested millions of pounds into its own research by conducting trials of driverless pods and investigating how tech interacts with surroundings.
A rolling programme of reform will be pushed through by ministers over the coming years with a proposed Modern Transport Bill, changes to insurance while an updated Highway Code will surface in summer 2017 to take semi-autonomous driving features into account.
We’ve already come a long way from cruise control – invented in 1948 – and there are cars already on the market that claim some measure of autonomy, although it hasn’t been without its controversy.
Tesla introduced an ‘Autopilot’ function to its Model S late 2015 by adding a series of cameras and sensors to gauge its environment and adjust speed and direction accordingly. But the function has been linked to a number of deaths suggesting that there is a long way to go yet and the driver still needs to be prepared to step in when required.
So when do we actually reach the point that we can sit in a car and tell it where to go?
2026, apparently. Experts reckon that it will take around ten years until a car can drive from one door to another without a driver needing to touch the wheel.
Everything from driving on a motorway to stopping at traffic lights to departing from junctions will be handled by the car with other vehicles ‘talking’ to each other wirelessly. It’s possible that the steering wheel could be done away with entirely from then on.
So who’s going to win the race? At the moment, it looks like it could be a close call between Nissan and Tesla.
The fatalities have damaged Tesla’s cred and dented the reputation of its Autopilot function but it has since revised the system and added more radars and cameras. It reckons it will have a fully autonomous model on sale by 2018.
That would beat Nissan who have had a 2020 deadline in place for some time now, but it won’t just be one self-driving car, it’ll be ten! The Japanese brand will take a major step towards that goal by fitting the next gen Qashqai, due 2018, with partial autonomy.
Who else is in the race? Pretty much everybody, with BMW, Ford, Peugeot and Citroen all keen to sell a 100 per cent autonomous model from 2021.
While being first is harmless if fickle fun when leaving YouTube comments, you’d hope that safety would remain paramount during this race as Tesla has already been accused of trying too much, too soon, with fatal results.
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