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The key stages of autonomous development
Thatcham Research provides details of each step in the development of fully autonomous vehicles and the expected timescale.
In response to the Queen’s speech which took place on 18th May and which introduced the new Transport Bill, which includes acceleration of the development of autonomous and electric vehicles in the UK, vehicle engineering organisation, Thatcham Research has provided a guide to levels of automation and the expected timeframe for their introduction on UK roads.
The first stages of automated driving are driver assistance systems, some of which already exist in some forms on cars that are on the roads today.
2016 – Existing cars
Compared to a decade ago, new cars that are being put on the road today are completely different, with many of them being fitted with sensor systems, such as cameras and radar, which can be used to monitor hazards and intervene in car control by, for example, applying the brakes to avoid a collision or guide the car back into its lane if the driver loses attention.
Low speed driver assist systems, such as Pilot Assist from Volvo, are available now which have some further control functions including steering and acceleration. These operate at low speed and only if the driver continues to demonstrate an ability to regain control through hand positioning.
A key point on the level of automation demonstrated in existing vehicles is that the driver does not relinquish control to the vehicle systems.
2018 – A landmark year
Cars are expected to become much smarter within the next two years with the introduction of the first hands-off driving capabilities for motorway journeys.
This “autopilot” function will enable drivers to remove their hands from the wheel for short periods of time whilst the vehicle drives automatically. However, the driver remains responsible for vehicle control and will be expected to take control in case of unanticipated situations or system failures.
The need to remain in control of the vehicle continues to be a key feature at this level of autonomy.
2021 – Towards full autonomy
By the first year of the new decade, it’s expected that drivers will be able to disengage completely from the task of driving and can perform other tasks whilst on-board control systems drive the car. To achieve this, the car will need a complete set of sensors including radars, cameras and scanners so that it has full “awareness” of the traffic environment and road conditions.
The car will perform its own adjustments to driving parameters such as steering, braking and accelerating. It will also offer a full set of advanced driver assist systems for when the driver wants to take control.
2025 – Driverless cars
Thatcham Research envisages full hands-off door-to-door driving experiences to be possible within a decade.
Cars will be able to drive autonomously in cities and urban environments as well on motorways. They’ll be able to negotiate traffic lights, complex junctions and roundabouts, depending on the infrastructure systems in place to support autonomous driving.
Such vehicles will have full connectivity with each other and with the road infrastructure itself (V2x) which will allow the vehicle not just to navigate through its immediate environment but to plan ahead effectively taking real time traffic conditions into account. At this stage the driver will not even need to touch the controls during the course of the journey.