Australian roads will see revolutionary changes in the near future, with car manufacturers working to make self-driving cars a reality over the next ten years.
If you've been following motoring or technology news over the past few years then you will no doubt know that search giant Google and other leading tech and car companies are busy developing self-driving car technologies. While it may seem like science fiction, firms such as Google, Audi and Volvo have successfully driven millions of miles in self driving cars on real roads in the US and Europe.
Some self-driving features such as auto-braking and lane keeping are offered already and experts predict fully automated cars may hit the roads in as little as 5 years.
While Australian roads have not yet seen fully autonomous vehicles, autonomous technologies, such as self-parking, have already been introduced by Toyota, Volkswagen, and Ford. To some drivers reverse parking is a personal nightmare, however self-parking technology removes the stress and assists drivers to achieve a perfect reverse park. Imagine the benefits if your vehicle did all of the hard work and it was the driver's job to sit back and enjoy the ride.
An extra two weeks per year would also allow Australians much-needed time to spend with family and friends. Take a look at this video from Volvo for inspiration on how your peak hour commute could be spent in the near future.
“That is two working weeks a year of people’s time wasted behind wheels. There is an enormous productivity boost to the Australian economy if we can get these people doing something else…” Mr Feeney said.
It is estimated that households spend 18 percent of their income, roughly $9000 a year, on their car that they only use five percent of the time. Google intends to increase car usage to 75 per cent by introducing car sharing. Car sharing will decrease the need for car ownership because sharing a car will be so cheap and easy.
Today many Australians are reluctant to catch a taxi because of high costs and wait times. Self-driving cars will revolutionise the taxi industry making it more accessible for all. Currently much of the taxi fare is used to employ the driver, a cost that self-driving cars will eliminate. Lower operation costs means large savings for consumers and will also provide more opportunity for taxi companies to have a greater volume of vehicles.
Fewer cars means savings on car costs, parking spaces, government spending on roads and highways, the environment, and infrastructure. Less need for parking spaces means there will be greater ability for real-estate development, which will drive the cost of living down for both renters and buyers.
Centre for Insurance Law and Regulation at Santa Clara University School of Law Professor Robert W. Peterson said self-driving cars should also drastically decrease insurance costs.
“There is every reason to believe that self-driving cars will reduce frequency and severity of accidents, so insurance costs should fall, perhaps dramatically,” Mr Peterson said.
A University of Texas report estimated that with only 10 percent of the cars on US roads autonomous there would be a saving of over $37 billion in less wasted time, fuel, injuries, and deaths.
Self-driving cars could enable the blind to be in control of a vehicle for the first time giving them increased mobility, freedom, and independence. The Google autonomous vehicle uses a combination of GPS, computer systems, and lasers to construct a 3D map and steer the vehicle. A push button to start and stop the vehicle is the only driver control making the autonomous car extremely user friendly for the blind community.
Head of Santa Clara Valley Blind Centre and Google test driver Steve Mahan said having a drivers license symbolises independence and the blind community is "buzzing" about self-driving cars.
"In America, getting a driver's licence is a rite of passage. It represents being able, having the liberty to go where you want to go. Cars and car ownership are important parts of a sense of independence and personal power," Mr Mahan said.
Numerous people suffering from disabilities and serious health issues currently cannot operate a vehicle and have to rely on carers, family, friends, and public transport to get out and about. This reliance can have both emotional and economical effects on these people. Self-driving cars will grant the disabled greater freedom and control allowing them to travel further for work, be more self-reliant, and have increased confidence.
Self-driving cars will also enable teenagers, the elderly, the inebriated, and many other unlicensed people the ability to get themselves around.
Advancements in autonomous technologies will also allow drivers to travel long distances by car instead of flying as drivers will be able to sleep and relax while the car does the work. The fully autonomous vehicle will drastically change the design of the car allowing for more "lounge-room" characteristics.
Mercedes-Benz has released a design layout for their F 015 luxury autonomous vehicle and Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars Dr Dieter Zetsche has said that their self-driving car will "change our society".
“The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space," Dr Zetsche said.
Autonomous cars of the future will allow for a more relaxed social environment and will have sleeping facilities making it perfect for long trips with family and friends.
Technology is continually advancing, and self-driving cars will continue to provide innovative and exciting new capabilities. What once seemed a thing of science fiction will be a reality on Australian roads in the very near future and the possibilities will be endless.