While navigation tech and crash ethics grab a lot of future car column inches, the implications for interiors deserve more attention.
As Marek Reichman, Aston Martin’s chief creative officer, noted at the launch of the Lagonda Vision Concept last year: “The electrification revolution means there is no longer any need for ‘horse and carriage’ design. The batteries occupy the floor of the car. Everything above that line belongs to us.”
Combine that with driverless and the options become mindboggling. From self-driving emergency clinics to mobile restaurants or red light districts on wheels, solutions will doubtless be designed for a wide range of activities.
Beyond the ‘real’ world, of course, there are further possibilities. Two former Audi employees, Nils Wollny and Marcus Kühne, set up Holoride to “develop the future of in-vehicle media”.
One innovation involves using live vehicle data (e.g. on acceleration or steering) to prompt real-time feedback in a virtual reality environment. They say this provides a more immersive experience and can also help to reduce motion sickness.
“Whether it is SVO (JLR’s performance arm) recreating classics to modern standards or creating track-day specials, I think it will grow as autonomous driving becomes a regular part of lives,” he said.
The suggestion seems to be that driving will live on largely as a leisure pursuit, similarly to the way people enjoy horse riding.
The more exhilarating end of this pastime will be motorsport, but driverless vehicles are already edging into even this hallowed territory.
The radio controlled car racing scene has had a loyal following for years and esports – video game competitions – are huge these days. It isn’t the same the purists will scream. Maybe not, but it is getting closer.
Just a few days ago, 23-year-old Enzo Bonito set the internet alight by beating Formula E champion (and ex-Formula 1 driver) Lucas di Grassi on a winding track in Mexico.
What made this performance exceptional is that Bonito is a professional gamer. He trained on racing simulators but successfully transferred those skills to tarmac to beat a big-name star.
In the week when 97-year-old Prince Philip did his best to put road safety back on the front pages – first by smashing his Land Rover into a blue Kia, then being spotted back behind the wheel but not wearing a seatbelt – the British Safety Council reminded us of the pioneering work of controversial founder, James Tye.
Tye (pictured) campaigned tirelessly for 25 years until wearing a seatbelt become a legal requirement in 1983, producing one of the first reports on the subject back in 1959. The Department for Transport estimates the humble harness now saves around 2,000 lives in the UK every year.
Matthew Holder, head of campaigns at the British Safety Council, said: “The times when critics of the seatbelt regulations accused the government of operating a nanny state and limiting their personal freedom and comfort are long gone.”
Here’s our round-up of some of the more interesting and lesser reported self-driving stories from this month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas:
First, there was the hoo-ha over a Promobot being run over by a Tesla Model S. While the Washington Post described the incident as “a bit of embarrassment for Tesla”, Electrek suggested it was a PR stunt – they published a video of it here so you can make up your own minds.
Another one at the quirky end of the spectrum was the photographer claiming damage to his Sony camera after taking a shot of a lidar system. The BBC carried the story under the headline “Driverless car laser ruined camera”.
In more positive news, Aptiv offered enjoyable trips along the strip in its autonomous BMWs. The Inquirer’s journalist described the experience as “delightfully boring”.
Two of the most futuristic vehicles on show were Bosch’s IoT Shuttle and Rinspeed’s MicroSNAP (pictured above). The latter features a “skateboard” chassis and “pod” bodies that can be swapped at an automated robot station.
In terms of notable new partnerships, Ordnance Survey announced that its datasets will be combined with Mobileye’s car-mounted camera-based mapping to identify the locations of things like lampposts and manhole covers.
Elsewhere, German supplier ZF announced close collaboration with chip supplier NVIDIA, while GPS provider TomTom announced a link-up with Japanese components manufacturer, Denso.
Perhaps the most important news concerned the announcement of PAVE – Partners for Automated Vehicle Education – a group of interested parties including vehicle manufacturers (Daimler, GM, Toyota and VW), tech companies (Waymo, Intel and NVIDIA) and other big hitters like SAE International, the National Federation of the Blind and the National Council on Aging.
Their mission is to “inform the public about automated vehicles and their potential so everyone can fully participate in shaping the future of transportation.”
That all sounds great but it surely raises the possibility of confusion with the UK’s PAVE – People in Autonomous Vehicles in Urban Environments – a consortium including Race, Siemens, Amey, Oxbotica and Westbourne which is in receipt of government funding via the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV).
Other new initiatives include an autonomous bus service from Fife to Edinburgh (across the Forth Bridge) and a self-driving taxi trial in London.
The ServCity pilot, led by Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), has won £11.15m from Innovate UK towards its £19.8m project to develop a bookable autonomous taxi service in the capital.
The consortium also includes the University of Nottingham and Professor Gary Burnett, Chair of Transport Human Factors, said: “ServCity is an ideal opportunity for us to conduct world-leading research to understand the complex factors that will contribute to the public’s acceptance of connected and automated vehicles.”
Elsewhere, the government has recently backed four other projects which form part of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and Meridian’s £100m infrastructure programme:
1) The Connected Vehicle Data Exchange (ConVEx), led by Bosch, to help position the UK as a leader in CAV research and development.
2) Highway Intersections, which will see 6km of track added to Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground in Leicestershire to mimic a variety of road junctions.
3) Rural and Highway, a project adding 265km of roads to UK public, controlled and virtual testing facilities via the Midlands Future Mobility consortium.
4) Self-parking Cars, a consortium including Japanese-owned HORIBA MIRA and Coventry University to create realistic parking scenarios on Warwickshire’s MIRA technology park.
On a visit to driverless vehicle software company Oxbotica, Business and Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, said: “The UK is building on its automotive heritage and strengths to develop the new vehicles and technologies and from 2021 the public will get to experience the future for themselves.”
Another common objection to self-driving cars relates to data access.
According to a survey by insurer AXA and law firm Burges Salmon, just 5% of motorists said vehicle manufacturers should control driverless car personal data.
20% said the government should be the data controller, while 16% said a new driverless car regulatory body should be created.
David Williams, technical director at AXA UK, said: “Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) will only become a reality if users trust us with their personal data. This data is integral for driverless vehicles to provide reduced congestion, fewer accidents and better mobility for all.”
Those listed include Tesla, Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan and Mitsubishi.
Chinese officials say it is for analytical purposes to improve public safety and infrastructure planning, but this is a country where things like internet censorship and facial recognition are commonplace.
“Valet parking systems will enable autonomous vehicles to drop passengers at convenient points, after which the vehicle will leave by itself to undertake a further journey, or park out-of-town,” he said.
GM has even appointed its company president, Dan Ammann, to be CEO of its self-driving unit, while Cruise cofounder, Kyle Vogt, stays to lead technology development.
According to GM Chairman and CEO, Mary Barra, this demonstrates a “commitment to transforming mobility through the safe deployment of self-driving technology and moves us closer to our vision for a future with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.”
Since then, the University of Warwick has announced a new Smart City Mobility Centre, including driverless testing facilities…
… and businesses are also getting in on the act. For example, private hire company Addison Lee has linked with driverless software specialist Oxbotica to map London’s Canary Wharf in what’s been described as the first steps toward autonomous driving in the capital.
There’s also the phenomenon of catastrophic forgetting to consider. The problem of computers overwriting their parameters when they learn a new task, losing what they previously knew, is one of the biggest barriers to artificial general intelligence (AGI).
Bearing all this in mind, is it premature to declare driverless cars the biggest business opportunity since the internet?
Brands it namechecked included: vehicle manufacturers General Motors and Honda; parts-makers Aptiv, Continental and Denso; internet companies Alphabet and Baidu; semiconductor specialists Ambarella, Nvidia, Xilinx and Mobileye; and software companies Akamai Technologies, Dessault Systems and Hexagon.