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20 things you didn’t know about driverless cars - and why they really are future of motoring

By Paul Connolly

Driverless cars are poised to cause a huge shake up in the motoring industry, so here's everything you need to know about autonomous vehicles.

1. This is going to be one gigantic, disruptive technology that will literally change lives in coming decades. Hundreds of billions of dollars will be poured into making autonomous vehicles and associated products.

2.  The design of cars is likely to change over time as services and service providers migrate towards vehicles. Fully automated – known as Level 5 – vehicles will require no driver supervision at all, and therefore no pedals or steering wheel. Google’s Waymo subsidiary is currently developing these.

3. Most new cars are currently level 2 (partial automation) or 3 (some automated decision-making). Experimental models are successfully approaching Level 4, which means highly automated; if something goes wrong and a human fails to intervene, the car can save itself.

4. Once Level 5 is achieved, many businesses will migrate to become in-vehicle businesses where people receive services instead of driving themselves about. You could get your hair done, hold a business meetings or do some fitness training on board. Panasonic has already released some concepts of future Level 5 cars.

5. In 2015, a car successfully drove itself 3,400 miles from San Francisco to New York City. Auto supplier Delphi used an autonomous Audi to navigate. A driver was behind the wheel, but the car did 99% of the trip.

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6. Level 3 autonomous features in mainstream cars are becoming increasingly sophisticated, moving from the likes of self-parking to hands-free motorway driving and overtaking (in certain conditions).

7. Car makers are close to building fully autonomous vehicles, packed with the required GPS, radar and laser technologies - although lots and lots of testing will needed. For example, Peugeot has developed a concept car called ‘Instinct’, a sporty saloon which features fully autonomous driving options.

8. 25 million cars with 10 million cars with self-driving features are likely to be on the road within three years

9. It’s likely that it won’t be technology that holds up full implementation – questions of the law, insurance, international jurisdictions, etc. will need to be resolved first

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10. A small number of countries are likely to lead the way, with the US and the UK tipped to be amongst the early adopters.

11. Cars may not be the first to be fully automated. Studies show the majority of trucks ply the same routes regularly. Trucks could easily follow one another in convoy (with a human driver in the lead truck, at least initially).

12. This is known as V2V or Vehicle to Vehicle technology.

13. In fact, self-driving tractors have been used (albeit in simple locations with few people) since 2011. And two mines in Australia are already transporting all their goods via self-driving trucks.

14.  The biggest question surrounds how safe autonomous vehicles are and will be, and whether humans will fully trust them – say, to transport a busload of schoolchildren.

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15.  The autonomous industry is betting they will, and insists automated cars will be far safer than human-operated ones, cutting crashes by 90%

16. Human error is the main cause of accidents, with driver error responsible for three-quarters of these

17. Sadly, however, at least one human has been killed in an autonomous car. In 2016, Joshua Brown was on a Florida highway in his Tesla Model S using Autopilot when a truck turned left into his lane and the car failed to stop.

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18. It has been calculated, however, that once the all the tech and related hurdles are overcome, reduced accidents will bring driver insurance down possibly by 50% once all safety and legal concerns have been resolved.

19. Traffic jams will be reduced as governments will be able to track cars and accurately estimate and manage traffic flows. Air quality will improve.

20. Last, but definitely not least, there will be many ethical dilemmas along the way. For example, in the event of an accident should an autonomous car be programmed to protect the driver at all costs, or alternatively should it do the least amount of damage possible to people and other vehicles that may be in its way – and perhaps sacrificing the driver as an unintended consequence?

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