Self Driving Cars

How Is The Industry Developing?


It’s impossible to predict the future.

In an article in the Washington Post yesterday, Matt McFarland, Editor of Innovations, reminisced about General Motor’s (GM) Firebird II, a concept self-driving car which looked like something out of an old 1960s Sci-fi film.

In the video, the driver has to call a control tower where he’s kept waiting for about two-minutes before he’s put in self-driving mode. Whilst today’s self-driving cars demand an element of machine-to-person communication, the contact is thankfully much less than predicted by GM.

Google’s driverless cars have been the most significant foray into the self-driving space. Thanks to Machine Learning, the cars can bypass 80% of the unexpected issues they’re faced with - but rarer occurrences, like a cow being on the road, create problems. Due to this, Google has a system in place where the car can contact an assistant who can help solve the problem.

Ford, perhaps America’s most iconic automotive company, is looking to be the first major company to produce a fully autonomous commercial car. It announced that its aim is to introduce ‘driver-assist technologies’ to all its cars within the next five years. Although this would be a significant step-forward, it’s just the start of a long journey. Raj Nair, VP Global Product Development at Ford, claims that the adoption of driver-assist tech would be ‘the first of five development stages toward fully autonomous driving.’

This process, however, is being treated differently in Europe than the USA.

In Europe, emphasis has been placed on creating embedded systems where cars interact with one another and the smart infrastructure that surrounds them. David Wagner, Commentator at Information Week, states that American companies, like Google and Uber, are reluctant to rely on a smart infrastructure, instead concentrating on laser-technology which will be able to determine how close a car is to hitting something.

Both systems have their positive and negative aspects, but with the EU approach relying on cooperation between the government and private companies in order to get the smart infrastructure operational, it’s likely that the process will take longer than in the USA. This doesn’t mean that the EU approach is less likely to work, just that it might take longer to develop.

In his article, David Wagner states;

‘European policymakers will likely hedge their bets hurting their chances, and Google will likely forge ahead knowing that if it waits for US policymakers it will never get done. So, like in every war, the real casualty is the little guy caught in the crossfire.’

Ford’s currently experimenting with technology that will allow drivers to park in narrow spaces without getting stuck in their car. The driver simply gets out of the car, presses a button on their car-key and watches the car park itself. The car has sensors which mean that it stops when something’s in its way.

Ford’s latest venture into self-driving cars was unveiled at a press event in San Fransisco this month, and is aimed at proving that the automotive company is still at the cutting edge of technology. There’s clearly some way to go, however, and as we find more and more companies experimenting in the space, the clearer it will be as to what the timeframe’s going to be before we have fully enabled self-driving cars.

The advantages of self-driving cars are abundant. The average person in the USA spent 157 hours driving their car last year. Imagine what could have been done if that time were used in a more productive way? Ford is hoping to give us an answer.


Read next:

Leading Innovation into the Mainstream