Scott Reid: Driverless cars face a bumpy road ahead

A recent crash involving a self-driving Uber car in Arizona highlights the challenges surrounding autonomous vehicles. Picture: Tempe Police Department via AP
A recent crash involving a self-driving Uber car in Arizona highlights the challenges surrounding autonomous vehicles. Picture: Tempe Police Department via AP
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Driverless vehicles, we are constantly reminded, are just around the next corner.

Indeed, a few of them are already out and about, undergoing trials amid the hustle and bustle of everyday traffic.

• READ MORE: Self-driving cars to be tested on public roads in UK first

More accurately, those pioneering motors are likely to still have a human at the wheel, as a last line of defence, in the hopefully unlikely event that metal mickey has a melt down.

In the UK, Nissan has just clocked up 300 miles using prototypes of its Leaf model with enhanced autonomous driver technology on busy routes in London, reaching speeds of 50mph, which seems a pretty heady number considering the city’s almost constant grid-lock. The Japanese firm is aiming to make fully autonomous vehicles widely available by the end of the decade. Small-scale tests of full driverless car technology have also been conducted in a number of locations, including Bristol, Greenwich and Milton Keynes.

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Short of adopting a Mad Max, road-warrior, resistance to all of this automotive onslaught, it appears almost certain that some time down the road we will all be spending a lot less time braking, steering and accelerating using our own appendages. For the millions of jam-bound commuters out there, myself included, that can only be a good thing, surely?

An industry body poll of more than 3,600 UK adults found that nearly six out of ten believe that connected and autonomous vehicles will improve their quality of life. Automatic braking and parking, and the ability of cars to self-diagnose faults, were cited by respondents as features most likely to reduce stress.

• READ MORE: Fatal Tesla crash raises safety concerns over driverless cars

The vast majority said CAVs (watch out for that acronym appearing a lot more) would improve their social life by helping them go out more regularly.

Many British businesses are at the cutting edge of driverless development and stand to benefit from a global market for CAV technologies that is predicted to be worth £63 billion by 2035.

The main barrier now to widespread adoption is not technology but legislation. Speaking at a conference in London, BMW board member Ian Robertson points out that, in the event of an accident, an autonomous vehicle could be faced with making a life or death decision. Grappling with those morals presents any government with a major headache.

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