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Autonomous Cars - Is the Future Bright Or Worrying?

Autonomous Cars

Most people are anticipating the emergence of driverless cars on our roads in the near future. But, will this become a reality or is it just a dream? And could that dream potentially turn into a nightmare? 

Several high-profile car companies, such as Tesla, have begun development into future driverless car prototypes and concepts. Elon Musk is usually at the forefront of technological advances in the car industry, so it is no surprise to see him spearheading the creation of autonomous cars. This brings genuine hope to the majority of people anticipating the driverless car. The technology is advancing rapidly, thus the likelihood of driverless cars in the future is quite promising. 

Major UK network O2 are set to support the testing of connected and autonomous vehicles with the release of their brand new 5G network. The upgraded bandwidth will potentially help provide the connection boost needed to successfully run an autonomous car. The network has also partnered with the Millbrook Proving Ground, which is a key test track and a hotbed for companies testing autonomous vehicles in the UK. Augmented and virtual reality can be used to create virtual events for physical vehicles on test. This allows safe testing of potentially dangerous cases and complex scenarios when developing driverless cars. 

With the UK’s market for connected and automated vehicles estimated to be worth £52 billion by 2035, the Department for Transport (DfT) described this as a “major boost” to a new ever-growing sector open to investment from all over the world and the most influential transport technology companies. In February 2019, UK government ministers announced they would be going ahead with their plans for driverless cars in the UK and will be increasing the safety aspects that are required to be testing autonomous cars, for example alerting the emergency services and carrying out several risk assessments before being able to trial a self-driving vehicle. This demonstrates that the government is on track to meet its commitment to have fully self-driving vehicles on UK roads by 2021. 

A company that has already invested heavily in self-driving cars is popular taxi alternative Uber. They began testing self-driving cars with passengers in 2016, with the hopes that this futuristic technology could take them to the next level and establish themselves as pioneers in the motoring industry. However, their efforts were in turmoil quickly after a fatal incident in March 2018 where a 49-year-old woman in Arizona was hit whilst crossing a road by a self-driving uber vehicle. This prompted many people to doubt the safety and need for driverless cars. Popular insurance website MoneySuperMarket ran a survey and revealed, 48% think introducing driverless cars is a bad idea, with a lack of trust in the technology and a fear of not having control being stated as some of the reasons.

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In a rebuttal to the 48% of people in the survey, driverless cars could have many benefits to the people of the UK and the frequently dangerous and busy roads. If the technology is tested and proven to be safe, cars could become small leisure rooms, with more space to enjoy the trip you are going on, instead of all members of the family having to face forwards and watch the road. It would also provide many benefits to groups of people who struggle with demands of driving an automatic or manual car for example the elderly or people with disabilities. Coupled with this, the majority of road accidents in the UK are due to human error at the wheel but the introduction of self-aware autonomous cars would significantly decrease, if not completely eradicate this alarming fact. 

Whilst technology has never been greater than in the generation we are living in currently, the introduction of driverless vehicles will continue to divide public opinions. Autonomous cars have their benefits and would be a welcomed addition to the UK roads if they were to be proven to be safe, however the obvious negatives side effects could cause serious damage to many people if something did happen to go wrong. The talk in the past was always that we would be in flying cars in the future…maybe we should just stick to designing a car that can drive itself first.

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1st of May 2019