So it seems that Jaguar Land Rover have been playing with their automated toys around the streets of Coventry. They have been testing their driverless darling along a “mixed use” area, meaning that the driverless vehicle is already being challenged by a range of real life and unplanned traffic and pedestrian scenarios.
This is very exciting and means that JLR will really be able to get their teeth into the nitty gritty of driverless artificial intelligence.
The Government seems to be going full blaze into supporting the arena of vehicle automation. This is because they are not dummies. The value of autonomous vehicles to the UK economy is estimated to be worth around £30bn by 2035 and worldwide a staggering £900bn by as early as 2025.
Brexit is playing its part. The Government is nervous about our industrial prospects outside of the European Union and so are willing to stick their necks out within this brave new world. And it is a brave new world. JLR chief Ralf Speth’s views support this: “We stand on the brink of a mobility revolution. The impact of the changes we are about to embrace will be huge across all sectors of the UK economy. The opportunities are great: this mobility revolution will change lives profoundly.”
And this really is going to be a very profound change. Apart from the houses we live in, transportation is the next largest cultural footprint of humanity – and its about to change big time. You could compare it to the onset of floating houses. But this is real and its happening now and its happening all around us. The fact that driverless cars are humming around Coventry is very very exciting!
And the UK is serious in its support for the industry. The Queen’s Speech spoke of ambitions aimed at minimising red tape for self-driving cars along side Britain already having a headstart over many nations in autonomous vehicles. The UK never ratified the Vienna Convention where the legislation requires that “every driver shall at all times be able to control his vehicle”. The UK therefore does not have to rewrite the law in order to test self-driving vehicles on public roads. Hence JLR having permission to test their robotic buddy on the roads of Coventry.
Before all this becomes a reality though, there are some interesting things to consider. Ford is developing technology that will allow cars to communicate with one another. This means that, if one car slams on the brakes, its computers will warn the vehicles behind it about the danger. This of course suggests that all cars, regardless of manufacturer, will need to speak the same language. It will be utterly pointless if the Ford car in front is frantically messaging back to the Honda behind that it should brake pretty bloody pronto if the Honda doesn’t understand the lingo. Hopefully it should brake anyway but an early warning is always good.
This will naturally mean a massive amount of collaboration between the car manufacturers of the world. I wonder if this is going to happen? Something to enquire about. A leaf could be taken from the Energy industry in this regard, where all Smart Meters, regardless of who made them must speak an industry agreed language so that all devices can speak to each other regardless of manufacturer or supplier. An industry wide standard language surely needs to be generated for driverless vehicles too.
The software behind the intelligence of driverless vehicles is undoubtedly going to evolve as manufacturers become more aware of the many challenges presented to our 4 wheeled friends. This naturally means that lots of software updates will be required over the lifetime of a vehicle. Just like your apple phone IOS is always evolving and getting better, the same will happen for our cars. The iPhone can easily be updated as it is on a cellular network and the new code can be piped over the airways. Driverless cars will need a similar facility so that they can happily download their latest intelligence overnight or while parked outside our offices. Again, I’ve not heard this talked about yet but my research into the subject is fairly new. I hope to find out for the Fully Automated Tribe.
A company called FiveAI is leading a consortium aiming to put driverless cars on the roads in London by 2019. They say getting to full autonomy will involve a lot of testing not just on private roads but in computer simulations: "We will need to test all the edge cases," Lucy Yu explains. "Different scenarios when it's dark or rubbish blows across the road. For that we can't use the real world as a sandbox." Regardless of how much testing they do though, they will never dream up every possible scenario that a driverless car will come across.
That is why I say, regular updates will be required as new knowledge is gleaned from real world experiences. This is necessarily admitting that there will be accidents. This is true, but I should think that 99.9% of them will not be serious or fatal. No driverless vehicle will ever drive recklessly. And of course there are many factors to consider. Full autonomy depends on weather conditions, type of road and time of day and other many other factors no doubt.
Eyes on the road
While watching the JLR video on their test vehicle I was interested to hear the tester person mention that many people gesture to drivers with their eyes. i.e. Can I cross or not type of gesture. A computer will never be able to compute at this level will it? It would need to try and translate all sorts of gestures. I should think that it’s more likely that the human race will adapt to driverless cars and give up on trying to gesture to automated vehicles their intentions. Far more likely I think.
Anyway – I’ve droned on a little. So I quit here. Until the next article, fare thee well.