“The two inventions of the century, the car and the computer, are gradually coming closer together,” says Volkswagen CEO, Dr. Martin Winterkorn. His statement is especially true in 2015 as three of the world’s largest automobile makers unveil prototypes of their driverless cars at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). These autonomous cars use a combination of cameras, GPS, sensors and a whole lot more, to self-drive, navigate and create an immersive experience for the passenger.
The global market for driverless cars is expected to reach $42 billion by 2025 according to a study by Boston Consulting Group and could make up a quarter of worldwide sales by 2035. Motorists too are receptive to the idea of using and purchasing driverless cars. 44% of motorists on a recent survey were willing to buy a fully autonomous car within the next decade. As public opinion turns more favourable and automobile makers push the envelope of concept cars, there could be a radical shift in the way we travel in the not-so-distant future.
As a starting point, auto makers are focused on creating semi-autonomous cars – ones that require minimum manual intervention. Such cars will feature automatic steering, braking, throttle and parking assistance and are being phased in over 2015 and 2016. Elsewhere, chip makers are focusing efforts on creating superchips that deliver the processing power needed to see cars become immersive and ‘adaptive’ to their surroundings. A superchip will also bring console-grade graphics to cars helping improve touchscreen displays, 3D navigation maps and overall image recognition abilities.
Massive strides are also being made in autonomous green cars, with Toyota launching a car battery that charges in three to five minutes. The car can also transfer power to homes, working as a backup generator capable of running appliances for almost a week! Companies are also making efforts to make regular cars smarter. One firm has created a device that can be plugged in below the dashboard to collect engine data and acceleration data and share this with the driver via an app.
Governments are steadily preparing and piloting projects that trial driverless cars on public roads. The UK has launched driverless car testing in four cities alongside setting up £19 million in funding. These projects will not only focus on the cars’ performance on open roads but also on public reaction and legal and insurance implications. There is also talk of self-driving taxis that will be cheaper to operate and will encourage ride sharing in large cities.
Premium manufacturers are already selling technology that enables a partially-autonomous driving experience. Soon, however, cars will ‘learn’ from their surroundings and respond to traffic jams for example. In the future passengers will be able to interact with the vehicle through eye-tracking and gestures and a car will be a place where one can relax as opposed to nervously navigating traffic from the driver’s seat. Do you think 2015 is the year of the driverless car? Tell us in the comments below.