Self-driving cars, what were once only seen on Hollywood screens, are now making headlines every couple of weeks, whether in global news or right here in the UAE.
The most notable of which are likely Tesla's efforts with their semi-autonomous Model 3 in Dubai showrooms already. However, all the global players seem to be making great progress towards a future of completely driverless vehicles.
This opens new realms of possibilities. We have delved deeper to explain how far along the technology is, who is involved and what it could mean for our day-to-day lives.
Where does the tech stand today?
Autonomous cars need to navigate their environments independent of human input, detecting changes on the road through radars, lidars, odometry, computer vision and GPS. Baby steps to this reality include technologies such as self-parking, lane assist and automatic braking. Some have already taken it a step further, such as Audi with its Traffic Jam Pilot which are capable of driving hands-free on a freeway up to 55 kmph. Mercedes-Benz made a breakthrough with its autonomous car driving from Dubai to Abu Dhabi in 2016. It was not fully autonomous though as a driver had to be present to indicate a change of lanes and manoeuvre through erratic traffic conditions.
Meanwhile, others like Google, Tesla and Uber are testing vehicles that can accelerate, brake, steer and navigate traffic. However, before these technologies can gain further momentum, basic safeguards and industry accountability will be essential. That is why governments are now jumping in with legislations governing the use of self-driving cars.
What could it mean in a few years?
From the looks of it, the race is on to introduce the first commercially viable fully autonomous cars. Industry insiders have compared the growing competition to a modern day space race where companies are investing billions to bring the dream of driverless cars to life. The profits will be tremendous for whoever manages to cross the finish line. Imagine driving home and turning your self-driving car into Uber mode to earn you some money transporting passengers while you watch TV.
However, that is not the only motivation as the introduction of self-driving cars will be a transportation revolution that will leave ripples in modern day society. Imagine the cut down in daily chores and the improved quality of life for the elderly who are not capable of driving anymore. Daily commutes become much more productive when you don't have to pay attention to the road. Research suggests that there is also potential to reduce accidents by up to 90 per cent and even increase the carrying capacity of roads with cars driving more closely together and at higher speeds.
Ultimately, the switch to fully-autonomous driving cannot happen overnight. To make it easier for all parties involved, there needs to be a gradual shift, and we can already see it happening. Largely autonomous cars are already being integrated into real-world environments in Arizona, California, Pennsylvania, Washington and Michigan. At this pace, major automakers believe self-driving cars will become a mainstream reality within a decade.
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Who are the major players involved?
Tesla, Google's Waymo and Uber have been the major players building and testing self-driving cars for some years now. Other notable automakers soon jumped on the bandwagon, including Volvo, GM, Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Ford, Toyota, Nissan and Volkswagen.
A growing list of partnerships has emerged over the years indicating that there will not one dominant player in this industry but several. Nvidia is partnering with Volkswagen and Volvo to build a high-tech 'brain' for their self-driving cars. General Motors recently announced the addition of 130 more self-driving cars to add to its fleet of 50 already being tested around San Francisco. Tesla and Waymo have been relentlessly researching into the technology for some years now and they seem to have made some notable improvements.
Future of self-driving vehicles in the UAE
Early in 2016, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced that 25 per cent of car journeys in Dubai will be driverless by 2030. Boston Consulting Group backed up this vision with a survey finding that indicates 79 per cent of consumers in the UAE are willing to drive self-driving vehicles and they are even willing to pay more for such cars when they do become available. Driverless pods for transportation in the UAE are also in the works and could be here sooner than you think.
To sum things up, while fully-autonomous vehicles have not been developed so far, their advent seems to be on the horizon. Perhaps in a decade or so, driver licences will become a thing of the past and we will have roads full of driverless vehicles. For now, we have to make do with assisted vehicles and not autonomous ones. There are still a few glitches to fix and tweaks to make before we finally realise our futuristic dream of fully automatic, driverless vehicles.
By Raaed Sheibani
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