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Driverless Cars Explained

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Last updated: 03/09/2021 | Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

It’s 2021 and here we are talking about driverless cars in very real terms.

In the next couple of years, we may start seeing autonomous vehicles on UK roads.

While few pleasures surpass being stuck behind the wheel in an M4 traffic jam, will driverless cars be the change we’re expecting? Future or fancy: we take a look at autonomous vehicles.

In This Guide:

What are driverless cars?

Driverless cars are vehicles which self-drive.

That is, they use various advanced technologies and artificial intelligence to get from A to B.

And the end game? They’ll be so autonomous that a human need not even be in the vehicle – you can programme your car to collect you, wherever you are.

Although we’re still a wee way off a mass rollout of this sci-fi inspired future, many of our cars already have autonomous features included, for example cruise control.  

How do driverless cars work?

We think the technology that allows driverless cars to operate is pretty exciting, so we thought we’d share this range of innovations with you.  

Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) helps the vehicle determine shapes and locate objects around it by mapping its surroundings. This is done through laser technology.

Regular cameras at the front and back of the car read road signs, whilst also keeping an eye on surrounding vehicles. Radar cameras are also at work, which recognise any obstructions by emitting radio waves.

A GPS System allows the car to navigate the structure of the roads, which it does by using the data collected from both the camera and LiDAR technologies.

In order to work, the vehicle must be able to read data. So lastly, there’s the multi-domain controller, which converts all information into a format the car can read. 

Together, these technologies aim to eventually allow for full automation; however, in 2021 an element of human control is still required.  

What are the benefits of autonomous cars?

As much as it’s cool to test the boundaries of our innovation, research and development into new technologies usually has to be financially profitable. So, what’s the motivation?

The major initiative behind developing autonomous vehicles is safety.

At present, the vast, vast majority of accidents on our roads are as a result of human error; around 94% of accidents on out roads can be attributed to this.

By removing that, roads will be much safer for passengers and pedestrians alike. It’s thought, therefore, that fewer accidents will also make cheap car insurance far more accessible.

It’s also suggested that investing in driverless car technology will give a boost to the UK economy, with hopes of us leading in this sector.

Yet it’s thought there could be further benefit to productivity: instead of driving, we could spend that time working. Or alternatively (as so many of us have found to be a perk of recent lockdowns), catching up with a friend, reading or just having a breather.

With autonomous vehicles, there will also be less congestion and thus fewer emissions – with the double-whammy benefits of helping both the environment as well as our stuck-in-another-traffic-jam frustration.

Plus – and this could have a significantly positive impact on the lives of many – driverless cars could increase mobility and opportunity for people who are unable to drive, in particular those with disabilities.

How safe are autonomous cars?

When it comes to safety, the aim is that driverless cars are superior to humans.

As it stands, all signs point to the technology continually being improved upon. In theory, accidents should significantly reduce.

We’ve mentioned that they work by GPS, cameras and locating objects on the road. However, on the road, unexpected incidents always happen.

Technical advances are still needed in certain areas, such as in spotting potholes, being able to respond to temporary traffic measures like traffic lights and human hand signals, and discerning between obstructions or debris on the road.

Moreover, the cross-over period between driverless cars and human-driven cars on the road could temporarily lead to issues.

Perhaps a less tangible safety concern, but one prevalent for many, is the vehicle’s susceptibility to hacking.

The safety and security of the car’s system and our personal data is understandably a worry to the public, as are any technical issues or teething problems that could result in being unable to access your vehicle.

Because we’re on the brink of this shift, the laws surrounding driverless cars are still being drafted, deliberated and decided.

How will driverless affect car insurance?

The Automated and Electric Vehicles Act was passed in 2018, so even though driverless cars aren’t quite on our roads yet, the powers that be have been hard at work thinking how this’ll affect our insurance. There are two main points about the proposed bill so far.

If you take out a driverless insurance policy, vehicles will be covered for accidents that happen when the AI is driving – but you must make sure the car is properly insured or else you’re liable. Additionally, you’ll only be covered if you keep the car’s software completely installed and updated as recommended.

There is also a scaling system for how autonomous your car is, ranging from conditional automation to complete automation; it’s thought insurance quotes will relate to this and you may find ultimately the best automobile insurance quotes will be for fully automated vehicles.

But again, we’re not quite there yet!

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