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Motors

Full vehicle autonomy ‘will take time’

Wednesday, 7th August, 2019 4:34pm

Theoretically, it should have been now. In 2019, Harrison Ford sat into his car, spoke a destination into the dashboard, and it took him where he wanted to go.

The problem? The car was a mixture of movie set and special effects model, and instead of being controlled by a sophisticated computer, it was controlled by the special effects team on the set of the 1982 film ‘Blade Runner’.

So. we’ve missed the 2019 date, but many car makers and Silicon Valley seers have been predicting only a slight delay in the schedule — 2021 has been widely touted as the new arrival date for cars smart enough to drive themselves.

Ahem. Perhaps not, says Continental. You probably know Continental better as a supplier of those most analogue of vehicle components, tyres.

But the German giant has its engineering fingers in pies more numerous than that, and is in fact one of the leading suppliers of just the sort of tech that autonomous cars will need. And Continental’s new best guess as to when we’ll see vehicle autonomy on our streets? 2030.

Andree Hohm is Continental’s Chief of Autonomous Driving, and at the firm’s recent tech show in Hanover, he predicted that it’ll be the end of the next decade before the tech starts to take hold.

“People always ask me when driverless vehicles will be on the road and I tell them the answer is ‘today’,” Hohm told attendees at the show.

“If you have a very specific application area, for example like a private road, and want to travel at low velocity, you can buy such a vehicle. Urban situations may be more complex than highways, but they have one key advantage: slower speeds give you more opportunities when systems fail or you get erroneous readings from sensors.”

Hohm is part of a growing chorus of tech leaders who have been gradually rowing back on the predictions of total inevitability for the growth of autonomous vehicle tech.

While the benefits to safety and efficiency are clear, many have raised concerns over such issues as the reliability of the systems used, privacy worries, and indeed the potential for increased road traffic as people migrate from public transport to robot cars.

“We at Continental consider driverless mobility to be very promising,” said Hohm. “It will have a significant share of the mobility of the future.”

But he went on to say that the key is to create a bedrock of safety and reliability in the systems, so that people are convinced that the car is safe to use. “This foundation has to be very solid,” he said.

“You have to cover all situations because there's no driver as a fallback option. It still sounds a little bit creepy, if you think about it - going into a car where there is no one at the steering wheel. This is for us a clear signal that we have to introduce those functionalities step by step. We need to clearly show what we are introducing. We need to involve people in pilot projects, so they can actually experience how exciting the technology is.”

Continental’s studies have found that while Chinese customers are quite accepting of the potential of autonomous technology, European and US customers are much more sceptical.

Nevertheless, the potential market for autonomous technology is expected to grow from USD$314 billion now to USD$1.35 trillion by 2030.

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