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Paul Barker's blog: 24 August - Driverless cars could be closer than we think

Date: 24 August 2015   |   Author:

It was fascinating talking to the top autonomous cars man at TRL recently, especially around the issue of ethics and putting your faith and control in a computer-programme.

The much trotted-out fear around such cars is what they will do when faced with a choice of two bad outcomes - the decision about whether to hit a mother pushing a pram or a bus queue being the usual example - and Prof. Reed's first point was that they will be that much more cautious than a human driver and therefore assess the danger earlier and be less likely to put the vehicle in a position where it is unable to avoid an accident.

We didn't get stuck into the interaction between these cars and human-controlled ones that will, in this scenario, be frustrated at the potential slow progress of the autonomous car in front, and whether there will need to be some sort of sign or signal to say a car is under automatic control, but these are debates for further down the line.

Reed is certain fully autonomous cars are coming, once the numerous technological, ethical, logistical and legislative hurdles are overcome, and he can see the day when our use of travel time is completely reshaped because the driver will be able to read, work or even sleep.

That has massive implications in terms of distances and times of day people will be willing to travel, both for work and socially.

The creep has already started through cars on many fleets today that can prevent an accident at urban speeds by stopping the car if the driver doesn't, can follow others at motorway speed and control distances through adaptive cruise control, and that can read the road markings and make minute steering inputs to help avoid drifting into another lane.

This is the technology that will gently develop towards full automation over the coming years, and the impact will be fascinating.