Real Car

Real Car

0 comments 📅02 December 2014, 00:37

Recent news about the use of drones for delivering parcels was received by some as a form of warning against deep intrusion of machines in human life. The news spread extremely quickly and then the idea faded down unrealised. When searching for similar information it’s hard not to notice other news such as those about self-driving cars and the whole technology surrounding the idea of a connected car. Although Internet in the car is something the society has learned to accept, a car without a driver is still met with shock and disbelief. For the time being, at least.

In fact, many elements of autonomous cars have already been implemented in standard vehicles, for example various sensors (detecting rain, obstacles, pedestrians, etc.), self-parking solutions, electric engines, Internet access. The only thing missing is a device which could take over the role of a human. Of course, every major carmaker is working in secret on new technologies and innovations which could be implemented in their products. More or less advanced self-driving cars have already been shown by a number of companies: Ford presented Fusion Hybrid, Nissan is testing Leaf, Renault Fluence is able to independently drive to the person renting it, BMW drifts, Mercedes S500 as the first can autonomously drive in the city, whereas Volvo declared that in 2017 it will be the first company to mass produce the autonomous version of XC90.

Automated Fusion Hybrid Research Vehicle

Photo: Ford

However, the company most interested in disrupting the whole market is Google, which could extend their business into transport industry with a bang. Apple is not particularly noticeable in this segment as they have so far only presented solutions for integrating iPhones and iPads with the car in terms of entertainment.

How to make people get used to certain things, especially those which at the beginning seem redundant or can be done without? Well, by giving them out for free! This has been Google’s strategy from the beginning and the same will happen to their autonomous vehicle, which recently the company started developing rapidly.

According to the representatives of KPMG, the authors of a study called “Self-Driving Cars: Are we ready?” consumers believe that IT companies will be able to deliver better autonomous driving solutions than car manufacturers. The document also predicts that until 2019 autonomous driving systems will be offered as an option with most new cars from the premium segment. Not all forecasts are so optimistic, though. A report prepared by Bosh suggests that most drivers are not interested in the idea of a self-driving car (approx. 30% respondents are interested in buying a car like that, however, 21% are afraid to travel in one). This reluctance or fear can be explained by lack of knowledge or simply by distrust.

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Photo: Google

How does Google want to convince future customers to use their autonomous car? There is an idea to introduce services which are free or at least very affordable to the passengers. For example, if you have a Gmail account or google+, you can order a free trip in a driverless car from the airport to the city centre. When users get used to the idea, the solution could be commercialised, not by Google, though, but by external partners (for example autonomous taxi cabs, cars bringing people to restaurants, workers to their offices or by a real breakthrough in e-commerce where a car self-delivers a product to the customer, or the customer is delivered to the shop to try on clothes).

The last case is particularly interesting. A situation envisaged by Google could look like this: customers see an advert of a product on the Internet and they receive information that this product comes with a free lift to the closest branch of the store. Then comes the moment where Google steps in – in real time, based on the customer’s location, it calculates the normal cost of getting to that particular branch and shows the savings to the client, who has all the information needed to strike a bargain. All the marketing costs will be borne by the shop and Google will deliver the client to the shop, while keeping the information about the transaction. It should be noted here that the above mentioned situation is not the product of the author’s imagination but a newly patented Google solution called “Transportation-aware physical advertising conversions” which, when translated into plain English roughly means “getting clients to shops with autonomous cars”.  

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Photo: Google patents – diagram

This solution could cause a very quiet revolution. When people become convinced that this is a great idea for buying and a great way to travel as well, the solution may in turn become indispensable resulting in a situation where the streets will be full of extremely precise and law-abiding autonomous vehicles.

Some of us may feel annoyed that Google invented the autonomous car and following a series of test intends to introduce it for sale in order to earn a lot of money. Some may ask if it is even legal. It must be remembered that the whole situation is taking place in the US, where the whole system is much more innovation-friendly than in other parts of the world. Nevada, California and Florida have already adopted laws permitting the use of autonomous vehicles. Next in line are Michigan and New Jersey. It is quietly mentioned that the use of these cars could be extended to people who do not have a driver’s license, minors or the disabled – including the blind. How does Europe look in this context? It is still in the early period of trying to adopt the eCall system that would force all member countries to install SIM card based devices in cars which could in turn inform about a collision or other dangerous situations. Looks like the gap between the two continents is quite wide.

Coming back to the US – there are  three major factors allowing short term (approx. 5 years) introduction of autonomous vehicles to the market: favourable legal environment, advanced research and technologies, interested businesses and partly convinced society. These conditions are sufficient enough for Google to continue intensive work on their autonomous car and in the future to say goodbye to human drivers.

Source:Google

What are the arguments of autonomous car supporters? Safety and more efficient traffic. These important factors should have a chance to be developed into solutions. Google says that self-driving cars will be able to prevent most accidents, and if they do happen, the consequences will be greatly reduced. In order to analyse these claims we need to take a closer look at the construction of an autonomous vehicle. According to Google, the currently available software can recognize dozens of objects within the proximity of such car and react to them. Even a cyclist signalling a lane change with a hand is not a problem – the system knows that in such case the car should slow down (or at least not accelerate) and allow the cyclist to finish the manoeuvre. The car can read road signs, recognise lanes and other signs drawn on the road, understand who has the right of way at the crossroads (interprets the colours of traffic lights), predict the reactions of other road users and analyse them. Its actions are based on cold calculations. That is why it will never try to risk crossing the road when the light is amber or turn right on red without stopping. It will also always stop when there is a pedestrian approaching the crossing. Please remember that the above solutions are not just wishful thinking but real components of a car that has been introduced and tested for hundreds of thousands of miles in normal traffic. It’s hard to deny that such information sounds very convincing. The argument for optimising traffic on the road is a vision of a street full of synchronised cars occupying every available inch of the road fully integrated with the urban system of traffic lights and crossroads.

A much wider consequence of the implementation of autonomous cars is the total or substantial reduction of the number of taxi, lorry or bus drivers, mechanics, insurance agents, couriers, and much of the global automotive industry. I hope, however, that in the era of autonomous cars, there will still be space for drivers like us, for whom driving is a passion not easily abandoned.

In my analysis I may have drifted too much into the future. I also might have misinterpreted Google’s intentions. Nevertheless, looks like something is happening. The concept of a car has resisted innovation for too long. When it finally yields, would it be so dramatic as to redefine the whole automotive industry? I think we still need to wait to find out. However, it is important that such questions are posed. It is the first step towards the change. How deep – remains to be seen.

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Photo: rinspeed.eu

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