Aside from the move to electric vehicles, there is no area that receives more attention in the automotive sector than Artificial Intelligence (AI).
From the early days of lane exit warnings and built-in sat-nav devices, cars are increasingly coming equipped with a host of computers and sensors designed to do one thing, taking the pressure of driving away from the driver.
While the petrolhead will rail against the idea of a car driving itself, scores of motorists daydream about the idea of letting the car do the hard part for you – especially long-distance commuters who’d rather catch up on some zeds rather than focus on the road ahead.
We are still a few years away from fully autonomous cars (at least the middle of next decade) but they are an inevitability now rather than a possibility.
However, do we have the infrastructure to cope? Premium cars today, used to pioneer the tech, are now approaching what’s known as Level Three levels of autonomy. That means there are periods when you can take your hands off the wheel, but you still need to be alert for any unexpected incidents, or when the car requests you take over.
Typically, these systems are designed for motorways and other, relatively predictable, road circumstances. They’re not typically suitable for highly-populated areas – at least, not yet.
The big step will be Level Four. These vehicles will be totally autonomous – but only in controlled areas, with sensors, sat-nav and an ultra-fast AI brain taking care of safety critical functions. For most, this will be a taxi you can hop in and out of without worrying about small-talk with the driver. As many as 20 car markers will have Level Four cars on the market by 2022.
It is potentially here that the biggest pitfalls for manufacturers may arise before the fully autonomous Level Five cars arrive in 2025.
Connectivity is one area that may be important, and some manufacturers will rely on the ability to make Over the Air updates to their vehicles’ software to ensure the latest safety updates are always present in the car. Particularly in rural UK, where network signals are patchy at best, the new 5G network will be crucial to ensure cars are as safe as possible – not to mention hack proof.
And they need to be, because it’s at this stage these vehicles will first be operating in an environment loaded with people. Put simply, there is no room for error.
As with any new technology, there may well be some unforeseen circumstances – so being able to act swiftly if the worst happens is essential and should be front-loaded into any release. In Stericycle’s experience, having a system in place at the outset makes the unexpected a little easier to deal with. With something as crucial as this, any dent to consumer confidence should be avoided.
So hopefully by 2025, we can sit back and relax as our cars whisk us effortlessly to our destination.
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