Driverless cars on our roads by 2020

Intelligent car technology is ready to go – and is just waiting to be implemented, according to leading engineers. 

Driverless car s areexpected by the end of the decade. According to experts at IEEE, nearly all of the prangs caused by driver error could be eliminated by introducing a wide range of semiconductor-based technologies in our cars.

In-vehicle machine vision and sensors that can detect drivers about to nod off at the wheel are just some of the devices that will be made available to motorists.

The problem so far has been that the technology has been too expensive to kit out the average Fiat Punto with embedded systems, sensors, microprocessors and control technologies.

However, Dr Azim Eskandarian believes that it is only a matter of time before that kind of vehicle safety is standard.

This means that there will likely be less deaths on the road each year as chip technologies come to fruition.  And this is likely to be particularly pertinent in developing parts of the world, where there are more motoring accidents, and where high end sensor-covered cars are extremely rare, as Freescale’s engineering director mentioned at IEF.

However, as technology costs continue to fall and implementation of these technologies increases, we could see significant improvements in vehicle safety, efficiency, and energy conservation within 10 years.

The spectre of liability has been to blame for manufacturers holding back on using smart sensors, such as lane departure warnings or vehicle to vehicle communications.

But if Eskandarian is right then within ten years collision detection features could be as ubiquitous as the seatbelt or airbags. 

Another IEEE professor, Alberto Broggi, believes that autonomously driven vehicles are also just on the horizon.  He recently completed a 13,000 kilometre journey of a driverless van from Italy to China, which we presume must have freaked out a fair few motorists along the way.

He reckons that such vehicles will be ready to use in no-urban areas within the next five to eight years.  As he mentions, the first applications will likely be in agricultural equipment, such as self-driving tractors that can “maximise land use, increase crop output, and decrease injuries”. 

However, it won’t be long before driveless cars become common on our streets too, he says.

Cutting down on fuel consumption is another expected benefit. IEEE predicts that fuel use could be cut by 20 to 30 percent using intelligent technologies such as ‘eco-routing’.