So just how far off is this autonomous car craze and how will it impact the fleet world?
It’s the most significant change in the auto industry since Benz pioneered internal combustion, the Swedes invented three-point belts and Henry Ford institutionalised production lines. Forget self-parking and Bluetooth, full-autonomy is breeching. For the fleet business, this means potential savings in almost every facet.
Bingle Insurance’s Cost of Motoring Index 2014 valued the running cost per car in Australia at $5736 per year, totalling $63B. The index, which takes into account the cost of fuel and maintenance, plus registration and general ownership expenses, shows costs are on the increase. Human-free motoring is predicted to reduce insurance premiums if they can get the algorithms right, save on fuel costs and maintenance by being more efficient than human inputs, plus minimising driver fatigue.
Human error in road crashes costs Australia $27 billion dollars a year and is a contributing factor in 90% of incidents, according to Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI) statistics.
But the Australasian Road Research Board (ARRB) says Australia is lagging when it comes to adopting and adapting to the emerging technology. Last year’s driverless car project conducted between the ADVI and Volvo Cars Australia, and the South Australian government, was the first step toward that frontier. But there’s a long way to go.
German transport minister Alexander Dobrindt is already planning designated lanes on the country’s A9 autobahn in Bavaria for robotic and autonomous cars. Here’s Deutschland throwing its hat in the (Hockenheim) ring.
ARRB Group managing director Gerard Waldron says the company plays in important role in the driverless future of Australian roads. “Our key experts have been integral in assisting the SA government to translate its vision of seeing Driverless Vehicle Technology into reality, and this is a major and critical turning point for the entire nation,” Waldron said.
Australia is currently at what ARRB calls ‘Step 2 – Partial Automation’, which means humans are in complete control of a vehicle with minimal aids like adaptive cruise control, parking assistance and emergency braking. ADVI is working to take the next step toward what it calls ‘Conditional Automation’, where all aspects of driving are automated but operators must be ready to take back control when prompted, according to their website’s summary infographic. Step 5 is full autonomy.
Volvo Car Australia managing director Kevin McCann says Volvo is already making in-roads toward our driverless prospects. “Autonomous Drive technology is already available in many cars in the Australian market,” he said. “Volvo’s autonomous driving technology is a natural evolution from the years of development in safety technology,” for which the Swedish company is renowned.
Ford in Detroit, Michigan displayed its latest driverless tech innovations by testing its Mondeo mule in a fabricated environment, touting it as the first to tackle less-than-perfect conditions. Ford’s LiDar – accurate to a centimetre – and 3D mapping systems in the car used above-ground markings and road lines, as well as topography, geography and landmarks to determine where and how to manoeuvre in snowy climates.
Greg Stevens, global manager at Driver Assistance Research for Ford said, “There’s a lot of winter in Michigan–we’re used to weather changing very rapidly. We need to ensure our autonomous vehicles can handle those situations.”
University of Michigan’s associate professor Ryan Eustace explained that, “maps developed by other companies don’t always work in snow-covered landscapes. The maps we created with Ford contain useful information about 3D environments around the car, allowing it localise even with a blanket of snow on the ground.”
As something we do every day – for some it’s all day – the automation of motoring, taking the job of driving out of our hands, offers a glimpse into a safer, more productive and efficient future that could be and a yardstick moment in the fleet industry.