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Technology Planning and Analysis

Driverless cars in the UK by 2030?

Google has famously been testing out its automated cars for a few years now and so far the cars have reportedly driven more than 700,000 miles. But now the UK has gotten involved and for the first time, driverless cars are going to be trialled on UK roads in four towns and cities. According to a government report, it is hoped that driverless cars will become mainstream by 2030.

But how realistic is it that driverless cars will become mainstream in the UK within fifteen years? We catch up with Prasad Satyavolu, Head of Innovation for Manufacturing and Logistics at Cognizant, for his thoughts on whether the UK’s current infrastructure is ready for autonomous cars, the dangers of hacking, and the impact on future jobs.  

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to rolling out driverless cars?

A combination of technologies are needed to build a driverless car. Mass commercialisation of the technologies involved will be the biggest obstacle in rolling out driverless cars. The costs involved will also be a barrier to large numbers of consumers investing in the short term, particularly when you consider the time it has taken for electric cars to become more commonplace. Mass proliferation will be dependent on mass consumerisation and in the process bringing down the cost.

There has been a surge in cyber-attacks recently. Is it not more dangerous for human life if a driverless car gets hacked?

Society itself is going through a process of digital transformation. And as that happens, it’s natural that we will see increased attempts in the digital world, meaning that there is a need for better security systems. But this is something which is already widely acknowledged in the industry. All manufacturers and driverless car developers are focusing on security to ensure that cars cannot be compromised on this aspect to the extent possible.

Who will take responsibility if the car is involved in a collision/road traffic accident?

Many aspects of the discussion such as the impact on legislation and blame around traffic incidents will need to be agreed before driverless cars become mainstream. An important point for consideration will also be the impact on driverless cars in helping to reduce the frequency of accidents by removing the likelihood of driver error.

 What will the impact of autonomous cars be on future employment prospects?

There will be a shift towards all kinds of new technologies in the years ahead and people will need to re-skill and adopt new technologies. The jury is still out on whether there will be any real job losses from the implementation of driverless cars. In fact it could create more roles through manufacturing of new cars – UK Business Secretary Vince Cable has predicted the market could be worth as much as £900bn (US$1386) within 10 years.

How can connected cars reduce road accidents?

In car camera-based safety features can reduce some common causes of accidents by monitoring movements on the road (e.g. erratic gestures, departures from lanes) and responding faster than drivers may be able to. In the event of a crash occurring, driverless, and particularly connected cars could also speed up response times by automatically contacting emergency services when an impact is detected.

Another benefit beyond the safety of drivers to consider is the impact of driverless cars on those who are unable to drive, such as the elderly. For anyone who has restricted mobility or is anxious about driving, driverless cars could prove to be life changing.

Should we not be focusing on other things that could make our roads safer?

In order to see the benefits of driverless cars, we need to review why accidents happen, and most of the time it’s fundamentally due to human error. There are so many variables for consideration when it comes to road safety and it is difficult to find a solution which would solve everything. However driverless cars could go a significant way to boosting road safety, particularly when combined with other technologies such as in car breathalysers.

 What will the impact be on insurance companies?

The question of road laws and insurance changes as a result of driverless cars becoming mainstream is an interesting aspect of the debate and one which is yet to be agreed. The most important factor is that greater road safety can be built into cars using driverless technology, particularly in preventing speeding or the jumping of red lights, but it is yet to be decided how this will impact on legislation.

Our entire road infrastructure has been designed for human drivers. Will the infrastructure have to be redesigned or will the car be able to adapt to all situations?

The beauty with driverless cars is that not many changes are required to the current transport infrastructure as the sensors and cameras are in place on the vehicle. We will experience greater efficiencies with driverless cars, for example in terms of energy consumption, once smart cities are in place, but they don’t require the same level of investment now. This is why smart cars are moving faster than smart cities, because the infrastructure doesn’t need to change.

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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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