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I don’t know about you, but the words ‘self-driving car’ make me leap about the place with excitable, giddy abandon. Not that I don’t love driving, because I do, but imagine being able to safely make calls, send emails, read magazines and generally allow your attention to be elsewhere as you make your humdrum commute into work. Whilst the idea seems almost entirely foreign, the kind of Minority Report fodder nobody really expects to see, the technology is now so far into development, we are all but a commercial release away from experiencing this next level form of driving and the next level of on the road safety. A self-driving car? Safe!? You’ve got to be mad! Not at all, in fact, and here’s why.

 “I Can’t Let You Do That, Dave”

Yes whilst the idea of allowing a computer to jump in the driving seat, stretch its digital arms and tell you with a knowing wink that he’s ‘got this’ might seem as safe as dousing yourself in kerosene and haphazardly filling her up, the technology currently being used to create these vehicles and these systems is, of course, all centred on the safety aspect. There’ll be no corners cut here, and you can be sure that before it reaches our tired shores, the precautions and systematic provisions that lie toiling in the background certainly won’t be running on an aged copy of Windows Vista. Or Windows 8 even. In fact, it won’t be running on Windows at all, if they want to sell any of these things.

All Aboard the Road Train

But before we go any further, let’s just get a few of the rawer details out of the way. Most self-driving technology currently works on the principle that a ‘platoon’ or a procession of the cars follow each other around. Indeed, in one Volvo illustration of their ‘Road Train’, the document shows a vehicle joining a ‘train’ of other vehicles all hooked into the system, controlled by a lead vehicle. The idea being that when train approaches the driver’s destination, he takes over driving and steers out into the other lane, turning off and disconnecting from the system.

Of course though, this is just one aspect of the technology; the full system is comprised of hundreds of sensors, augmented reality features and responsive automated devices. For example Toyota’s ITS, the Intelligent Transport System, utilizes sensors built into the road markings that disseminate road and traffic information to the on board computer, meaning the car will know about congestion or obstacles in the road that the driver would not yet be able to see. Vehicles themselves are able to communicate with each other in a similar manner, allowing them to know when a car is, for example, trying to move into a blind spot already occupied by that car. Augmented reality, projecting sensory input applications on to the real-world environment seen through the windscreen, is already a popular technology used in smartphone apps and manufacturers have stated it will play a pivotal role in the self-driving car of tomorrow.

“Where Do You Want to Go Today?”

Google’s road test saw a convoy of three self-driving cars successfully finish a 125 mile journey last year, whilst statistics taken from these beta analyses have proven that these cars can ‘transport passengers with more success than humans’.  The rigorous consistency of a computer outweighs the commonplace occasions whereby a human driver is impaired, distracted or inexperienced to a dangerous extent, and this standardization actually makes driving safer across the board.

So, realistically, how far are we away from seeing these technologies begin to cascade into our lives? Volvo have said that, through the implementation of its technologies, ‘nobody will be killed or injured in a Volvo by 2020’. Which is quite soon. It’s a pretty massive leap all at once in terms of road safety, and it could really change the way we think of our roads and our vehicles altogether. Undoubtedly though, it will face some opposition from various industries and those who occupationally rely on their driving ability. As such, the next few years will be about getting everybody on board so we can move road safety and in-car technology to the next level. These are exciting times.

This article was written by Rob Vicars on behalf of UDrive Cars. No matter how advanced technology becomes, nothing will beat the unbridled driving experience of taking a supercar throttling around a race track; an experience UDrive Cars are bringing to you, today!