Autonomous functioning is showing a reliable, viable and growing interest within the automotive industry, it's customers and investors.
With the increased focus on road safety in the last few decades, and the increase in processing power available to computers at relatively low cost, has seen car manufacturers turn their attention to programming and developing electronics systems to increase road safety and ease of use of their vehicles.
Developments from companies such as Tesla electric's autonomous development program, PSA Groupe's automated driving experience project, BMW Innovation’s driver system, Renault ZOE Autonomous vehicle, to Uber’s Otto vehicle concept, various Automotive companies both new and old are in the process of placing strong focus on how to success in this era of technology.
Just as has occured within the Aviation industry, software is being developed as a means to reduce the workload of the driver, while also maintaining the reliability of the vehicle and safe driver aiding operation in both general driving and emergency situations.
Current examples from automotive companies show that their focus towards an electronically automated driving experience is something which companies look to focus on continuously learning new skills to adapt to the needs of vehicles both now and into the future. The focus seems heavily upon each software bundle being constantly updated and adapted, rather than created for each new vehicle or vehicle platform.
The main focus in recent years has been a race to develop a software and hardware package capable of realizing how to maneuver a vehicle along with how to detect the road, other road users, road lanes, pedestrians and other driving related sensory input without the presence of a competent human driver, while these abilities are in reality a complex mixture of multiple systems, the public often knows them only by one single understanding, and that is the term 'autonomous car'.
Developments in this field have greatly advanced in recent times, with fine tuning now focusing upon building up the abilities within the system to function and interact better with the varying environments surrounding the vehicle in motion.
While fully autonomous systems already exist, as does the ability for the driver to choose the destination without having to handle the wheel and controls, these systems currently, and will constantly, require improvements in detection and recognition of the outside environment to retain and improve safety.
To achieve this, systems such as GPS, radars, sensors, digital cameras are utilised within the software to interpret roadways, detect other vehicles, respond to situations such as road cloased barriers and read traffic signs.
Most autonomous vehicles, one such example being the Citroën Grand C4 Picasso by PSA, utilise a system which is designed to still be 'Hands on' and operates as a human-machine interface. The driver instructs the vehicle to operate autonomously while still being able to switch back to manual control at any time. Autonomous mode when activated is able to maintain lane placement, overtake slower vehicles, maintain speed while detecting speed sign changes and adjusting speed to comply.
This human-machine type system has been proven reliable by a number of manufactuers and Citroën has shown the ability of their system to travel long distances safely, recently touring the Vigo-Madrid route at speeds between 0 and 120 km/h.
Autonomous vehicles are positioned as the core business of PSA French group for the purpose and intent of improving a driver’s comfort.
With the investment in autonomy already providing such benefits, the future focus of the automotive industry is optimisation of the systems, in order to provide both comfort and safety without the driver loosing their sense of liberty while driving.
Volvo's main aim in autonomy is to reduce mortal accidents due to human error through the application of autonomous based technologies. The latest report from WHO (World health organization) estimated that 90% of the 1.2 million fatal road incidents yearly are caused by avoidable human error.
Minimising this number by introducing autonomous functions is the principal advantages of autonomous technology. In addition, reducing fatigue caused due to a driver's constant concentration in operating a vehicle over long periods of time is another goal manufacturers are aiming to improve with these systems.
Predictions are that by the year 2020 we will begin seeing the benefits of autonomous vehicle systems in terms of the road toll and overall traffic accidents. Many experts believe that by 2030, autonomous technology will be incorporated in every new vehicle sold globally. Investors too see this technology as a huge opportunity, propelling a new worldwide sales up-surge from customer demand as the technology and benefits become more known to the mainstream.
Although it is true that all automotive companies have a long way to go in perfecting this technology, the fact today is that autonomous functions are not a market rarity or simply an eccentricity for a specific customer niche.
While reducing greenhouse gas emissions is becomming somewhat of a customer focus and allowing advances the hybrid and fully electric sectors, this onboard supply of electrical power can then be further harnessed by autonomous software and computing, thereby providing a perfect platform for both economy, emissions and safety.
Thanks to JMA Automotive Mechanic in Airport West for technical assistance in preparing this article.