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Motor industry executives have moved to rein in expectations over the speedy rollout of driverless cars – while a major report says the UK is well-placed to gain a £62 billion boost.
Senior figures from Aston Martin, Ford and Uber are among those who believe it is currently unclear when fully autonomous vehicles are likely to be on the road.
That comes as a study by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) says the UK is well placed to develop self-driving cars – and could receive a £62bn economic boost by 2030.
However, the general public’s view on driverless vehicles appears to be increasingly sceptical.
A recent survey by online motor retailers BuyaCar.co.uk found that 56 per cent said the idea of autonomous cars “horrifies” them – up 10 per cent on two years ago.
Public opinion appears to have hardened since an autonomous test Uber car was involved in a fatal collision last March in America in which a pedestrian died.
As the driverless technology develops, the industry has created benchmarks – Level 1 to Level 5 – to identify its progress.
Level 1 has been in operation since around the early 2000s for functions like lane sensors and automatic cruise control. Level 2, now in use, takes over some functions, including self-parking and lane changing. The driver is always still hands-on.
Next in line is Level 3, using new laws, algorithms and next-generation sensors. Drivers will be hands-free for periods but on standby.
After that comes Level 4, with fully autonomous vehicles providing genuine “hands-off” driving in geofenced areas. That means self-drive capability would be limited to certain well-mapped geographic areas, such as highways and major roads.
The final step is Level 5. Vehicles would be fully autonomous and able to drive anywhere, using huge volumes of data and the latest computer systems.
Industry experts say the extreme technical challenges of producing driverless vehicles has proved greater than developers anticipated.
An Uber expert has spoken out to say it will be a long time before self-driving cars will be ready for wide-scale deployment.
Chief scientist at Uber Advanced Technologies Group, Raquel Urtasun, has said that self-driving cars will arrive in our lifetimes, but it was not clear when. She said to introduce the system at scale would “take a long time.”
And the chief executive of Aston Martin, Andy Palmer, is sceptical over the speedy rollout of fully autonomous cars.
He expected to see robotaxis in geofenced areas “as early as 2021-22” but did not expect Level 4 vehicles to be commercially in operation until the mid-2020s. He did not expect Level 5 in his career.
Ford chief executive officer Jim Hackett has also spoken to manage expectations over the introduction of driverless vehicles.
He believes the industry has “overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles” but said the company would stick to its plan to introduce an autonomous vehicle by 2021.
However, the SMMT report ranked the UK above rivals including Germany, the United States, Japan and South Korea as a global destination for the mass rollout of autonomous cars and said it could produce a £62bn boost by 2030.
It said the UK had the “essential building blocks – forward-thinking legislation, advanced technology infrastructure, a highly skilled labour force and a tech-savvy customer base” to spearhead their deployment.”
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