Driverless Cars: Could Vehicle Ownership be Relegated to History?

Driverless cars could eventually result in the death of car ownership, according to Phil Williams, project manager of the Technology Strategy Board special interest group Robotics and Autonomous Systems.

Williams, who was speaking at RE.WORK’s AI & Robotics Innovation Forum, said: “The likelihood is that we will see a reduction of car ownership”.

He said that transport was likely to move towards being a service. “Today it’s called a taxi,” he added. “In 10 or 15 years time it might be an easy car.”

This change would be likely to come about because payment-per-trip would increasingly become the most affordable option. Williams highlighted how insurance, MOT and road tax are already proving too expensive for some, and suggested that as driverless cars became mainstream they would make the cost of individual journeys much cheaper.

The percentage of young people learning to drive in developed countries has been on the decline over the past few years, a trend that experts are connecting with rising costs of car ownership and driving lessons and the increase of online activities.

driverless-car-landscape

Hugo Elias, senior engineer at Shadow Robot Company, also indentified a likely move towards driverless taxis and away from ownership.

“By 2020 every car manufactured in the past 10 years will be driverless, 10 years after than perhaps all cars will be driverless,” he said.

“Perhaps at some point in the future almost nobody will own their own cars.”

He argued that this could result in fewer cars in operation. Unlike now where most cars spend a large percentage of their service life sat in garages or driveways, driverless taxis could run almost all of the time, meaning a smaller number would be needed for the same number of people.

This, Elias believes, could have an impact on the design of cities. There would be a move away from car-centric cities such as Los Angles, and a rise in smaller cities built to accommodate pedestrians and bikes, such as Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

driverless-car-portrait

However, Paul Newman, BP professor of information engineering at the University of Oxford, was keen to stress that fully driverless cars that would operate completely autonomously were a long way from being a reality.

“This is a technology that’s going to blend over time. It’s not going to be a step change,” he said.

Newman, who is involved in the development of the first road-legal driverless car in the UK, argued that the technology that is underdevelopment at present is “hands-free driving” that still requires drivers to be alert and ready to take control.

“Insurance will disable the car if you sleep in it,” he said.

He did concede that truly driverless technology could eventually be possible, but argued that this was a very long time away. Newman said: “Maybe many, many, many, many years down the line you may not be facing forwards.”


Images courtesy of Mike and Maaike.


Magnetic roads: Crashes could be eliminated with cars that stick to the ground

Cars could soon be sticking to the road a lot more after the testing of magnetic roadways by car manufacturer Volvo.

The company has been using magnets embedded in test roads in the aim to be one of the first companies to introduce self-driving cars and also reduce the number of crashes.

It says it could soon be testing the magnets and futuristic roads in real-life traffic as well.

Volvo created a 100m long test track in Sweden and placed a pattern of magnets 200mm below the road’s surface. It then equipped the car with several magnetic field sensors.

Magnetic roads could bring many advantages to drivers and manufacturers. These include being able to position cars on the road in preventative safety system that could help to keep cars on the road.

Magnets could also allow roads to be smaller, with narrower lanes, as self-driving cars could be kept in position.


“Our aim is for the car to be able to handle the driving all by itself. “


Jonas Ekmark, the preventive safety leader at Volvo confirmed the company has been testing the technology.

He said: “The magnets create an invisible ‘railway’ that literally paves the way for a positioning inaccuracy of less than one decimetre. We have tested the technology at a variety of speeds and the results so far are promising.”

“Our aim is for the car to be able to handle the driving all by itself. Accurate, reliable positioning is a necessary prerequisite for a self-driving car.

“It is fully possible to implement autonomous vehicles without changes to the present infrastructure. However, this technology adds interesting possibilities, such as complementing road markings with magnets.”

volvomagnets600

Volvo is certainly not the only company to be trying to figure out the best ways to help prevent accidents and for some years now reversing-aid cameras have available in cars.

Recently competitors Toyota filed a patent, published at the beginning of March, which surrounds ‘collision determination’.

There are very few details included in the patent but it does say that a collision determination device involves a radar detection unit which uses radar waves to detect objects around the vehicle.

This will apparently work in tandem with an image based detector and both attempt to prevent collisions.


“ A large-scale implementation of road magnets could very well be part of Sweden’s aim.”


There is still a long way to go until we see magnetic roads replace traditional existing roads, and many barriers that need to be crossed, but Sweden has been working with the car manufacturer say they could implement a large-scale use of them.

Claes Tingvall from the Swedish Transport Administration, who worked with Volvo, said the work has been promising.

He said: “The test results are very interesting, especially when adding the potential for improved safety as well the advantages for the development of self-driving vehicles.

“A large-scale implementation of road magnets could very well be part of Sweden’s aim to pioneer technology that contributes to sustainable mobility.”


Image courtesy of Volvo Cars.