Expert Blog

The Inside Track, V10


Here at Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions, we’re so enthusiastic about the future of motoring that we spend each month scouring the Internet for articles about electric and autonomous vehicle technology that you might have missed.

Here’s our reading list for the past month:

  • One of the questions currently hovering over the automotive landscape is this: how long until we see consumer versions of autonomous cars? And the answer is that we may be seeing them already – in a way. Tesla’s Elon Musk recently confirmed that many of his company’s Model X and Model S cars are already being fitted with the hardware necessary for fully autonomous driving, including an array of 360-degree cameras and sensors. All that’s required to have them drive hundreds of miles without a single touch of their steering wheels is, apparently, a software update that will be sent wirelessly next year. According to Autocar’s write-up, Musk ‘believes that the Model S and Model X are already the safest cars on the road by quite some margin, but he claims that this update should improve safety by as much as 50 per cent.’
  • What else could be done to make these cars even safer? This issue has been taxing American legislators for a while, and they’ve now come up with a novel solution. New rules have been drafted that would require quieter cars, such as Tesla’s electrics, to make alert noises when they are driving at speeds of up to 18.6 miles per hour, to prevent the injury of pedestrians and other road users. It’s a fine example of how positive developments (in this case, the rise of quieter cars) can nonetheless create problems that need to be overcome (because we rely on the rumbling noises of existing cars for our own safety).
  • Speaking of safety, an article in Entrepreneur magazine asked: ‘do driverless cars spell doom for the insurance industry?’ After all, with so few accidents being recorded across so many testing miles, will we even need to take out car insurance in future? The article’s answer to its own question is that the insurance industry will surely adapt to survive, but it also contains some happy news for the rest of us: ‘According to the Insurance Information Institute, “Even if you don’t plan on getting one, all consumers are likely to financially benefit from self-driving cars.” How? It’s simple: Autonomous cars will make roads safer, meaning fewer accidents and fewer claims filed; and that will mean consumers will be less at risk, so insurance companies will need to lower their premiums overall.’
  • The Financial Times considered how cars and cyclists will coexist once the former have gone autonomous. According to one of the paper’s sources, Professor John Parkin, it could all be rather blissful: ‘He says that, currently, much infrastructure is being added to roads to keep bikes and vehicles apart that might not be needed in future … When fewer cars are driven by humans, in cities at least, there would be less need to segregate cyclists from traffic. This would allow roads to be designed as more open, shared spaces, Prof Parkin argues.’
  • And there’s more bliss in this CityMetric post by Lorna Wilson. Its general argument is about how autonomous cars could reduce traffic jams, but one of its specific observations stands out: ‘driverless cars may well make the mathematician’s job easier. Randomness is often introduced into models in order to incorporate unpredictable human behaviour. A system of driverless cars should be simpler to model than the equivalent human-driven traffic because there is less uncertainty. We could predict exactly how individual vehicles respond to events.’ And so, whilst so much about the future is unpredictable, it does appear as though predictability will be a crucial part of it.

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