Driverless cars are due to be tested on public roads by the conclusion of 2013, says the UK government.
So far, Great Britain trials of the autonomous vehicles have taken place solely on non-public land.
Driverless cars are radio-controlled by a system of sensors and cameras and are seen as much safer and a lot more economical than regular vehicles.
Internet Corporation Google are at the forefront of the technology however currently several leading automotive manufacturers including Mercedes, Toyota, Ford, Audi and Volvo are at present developing their own systems that rely for the most part on a mix of GPS, cameras, radar and ultrasonic sensors.
However, the visual sensors and cameras are dependent on having clear visible road markings and signs, particularly at night. We are going to have to just wait and see just how effective these systems are on British roads as much of the network in accordance to the RSMA’s (Road Safety Markings Association) recent survey is well below the required standard.
Reportedly, most vehicle accidents occur because of driver error.
However, unless the standards of road markings are drastically improved to permit this new technology to operate as supposed, accident responsibility is also challenged.
The inconsistency that runs throughout the network is another obstacle which will limit the effectiveness of the system.
A recent road safety article within the RSMA’s ‘Top Marks’ magazine* entitled; ‘ERF at the forefront of rising road safety in Europe’ indicates the growing importance of a well maintained road infrastructure. The article notices this:
"The Europe Road Federation (ERF) has initiated a really promising cooperation with the European Road Assessment Programme and also the European Association of car makers on the conception of the ‘Roads that Cars will Read."
Recognising the importance of a well-maintained road infrastructure for the effective operation of Advanced Driver assistance Systems (ADAS) EuroRAP and EuroNCAP launched a consultation in 2011 on this subject. during a shell, the two respected consumer associations warned that, unless core parts of the road (e.g. road markings and signs) were properly maintained by road authorities, drivers would for the most part fail to reap the big safety advantages anticipated from the broader use of the Intelligent Vehicle Systems for example Lane Departure Warning Systems and Lane Keep Assistance’.
The article goes on to mention:
"While once more the output report of the working party has not however been finalised, preliminary conclusions are doubtless to incorporate the bigger use of wet-night visible markings that are visible each to the human eye as well as the vehicle.
The final report of the ‘Roads that Cars will Read’ working group is predicted to be revealed by Oct 2013 and ERF has already been invited to present the results at a high-level conference to be union by the FIA in November 2013."
If driverless vehicles are to become a typical sight on the UK’s highway network then Government, in conjunction with Councils and highway Organisations will have to invest within the maintenance of highway line marking on Britain’s roads, one thing that has been sadly lacking throughout the last decade or so.
The advantages which are currently obvious with the automation of a highway network with driverless cars promising reduced congestion, reduced travel duration time, fewer accidents and reduced environmental impact.
The investment within the infrastructure should return, and come quickly, if the United Kingdom is to be at the forefront within the use of this technology and profit of the massive advantages it offers.
However, time is brief, as some variants of this automatic technology have already been finding their way into cars on the road with lane detection, vehicle speed and distance observation systems.
Some high end luxury cars are on the market with automatic systems meant to be used on motorways which will be programmed to keep up a set speed, brake and accelerate to the set speed as required, whilst autonomously steering to remain in lane, utterly automatically without any input from the driver.
Driverless vehicles that offer full automation and true door to door service is nearer than you'll think.
Tobias Lotz, Development Engineer, Ford will be presenting on Driver Assistance Technologies at this year's annual RSMA conference on 14th November at Eastwood Hall, Nottingham.
*Excerpts reproduced with kind permission from the RSMA.