Friday TechMunch: British Roads Drive Automotive Innovation

For many automotive manufacturers, this month saw one of the biggest industry breakthroughs in recent times as the UK government approved plans for driverless cars to be tested on Britain’s roads.

The plans announced by the Department of Transport mean that “real world tests” of driverless cars can begin immediately on our streets. The £19 million pound government-funded project will be see the self-drive pods tested in Greenwich, Milton Keynes, Coventry and Bristol, positioning the UK as a potential world leader in this new driverless era.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this news is the fact that driverless technology is finally becoming a reality, and not just a concept conjured up by 80s sci-fi film directors. By 2030, the technology running these cars, including hardware, software, sensors and safety features, is expected to reach a level of sophistication that means the cars can operate without any intervention from their passengers. This could become a life–changing, and more importantly a life-saving, change.

A trip to the shops would mean you’d no longer have to search around to find a parking space; you could simply get out of your car next to your store of choice and leave your car to drive off and park itself. Similarly, elderly people would now have a private mode of transport and children would be able to send themselves off to school as a driverless car would mean no driver and, therefore, no driving license.

The benefits could extend beyond daily convenience and offer people a safe alternative to getting home after a night out. Once this technology has been developed and truly refined, it’s likely that driverless cars will have faster reactions and will make fewer errors than humans, inevitably resulting in significantly fewer road accidents.

However, the road ahead may not be entirely smooth.

As with many new technologies it can take a while to adjust and get used to the idea. At the moment, 42 percent of people are horrified by the idea of stepping inside a self-driving car. Let’s face it, a car with no visible steering wheel, brakes or gears could look like an ominous death trap for any first time passenger. Driverless cars will need to have a long standing and consistently safe track-record before the UK market comes to terms with the idea. One fatal crash has the potential to significantly damage trust in the industry.

Another rising concern is the subject of insurance. Using a driverless car would require complete trust in its capabilities, safety and reliability. But what happens in the event that the car crashes; who becomes responsible? Arguments are being raised that if you’re not driving, how can you be accountable for an error on the manufacturer’s part.

It would seem that driverless cars have the potential to transform the motoring industry and its benefits will impact a variety of people across a wide range of demographics. However, the driverless car has a long way to go before it’s ready for the mass consumer market but in this case, the journey will be just as important as the destination.