Mention “driverless car” in Port Moresby and folks will think you are talking about a PMV rolling backwards down a hill due to a mechanical failure of epic proportions, as passengers and pedestrians jump for their lives.
To avoid confusion, that’s a vehicle that is out of control.
In other societies, “driverless car” and “autonomous vehicle” have far different connotations – instead referring to the future of automotive transport. Eventually, one day, such truly driverless, fully-controlled vehicles will be on the streets of Port Moresby. Just don’t expect to see them too soon.
Towards a driverless future
The International Society of Automotive Engineers has classified self-driving capability in vehicles into stages ranging from Level 0 to 5.
Level 0: Many of the cars available today are Level 0, as they lack any autonomous driving functions. The driver is responsible for all steering, acceleration, and braking, even if the vehicle is equipped with forward collision warning, cruise control, or lane departure warning.
Level 1: Level 1 autonomous vehicles have one or more systems that can intervene to brake, steer, or accelerate the car, but the systems do not work in tandem with one another. Examples of Level 1 features include adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and lane keeping assist.
Level 2: Vehicles with Level 2 autonomous technology can simultaneously control steering and speed at the same time, without driver intervention for short periods. They cannot perform autonomously under all conditions. The driver is required to stay attentive and be able to regain control of the car at any time. The Tesla Model S is perhaps the best-known Level 2 autonomous car, but it’s not the only vehicle that is available with the technology.
Level 3: Level 3 vehicles have full autonomous functions in all driving conditions but need to shift control back to the driver if they are unable to perform. Several of the autonomous cars currently being tested on public roads by companies such as Waymo (Google’s driverless car project) feature Level 3 technology.
Level 4: Fully autonomous vehicles can operate with no intervention from the driver other than the entry of the destination. They are designed to operate under any conditions. If the autonomous car systems fail, the vehicle will safely stop. They typically have redundant controls for the driver to actively take command of the car if they wish.
Level 5: Level 5 autonomous vehicles are designed from the ground up to operate entirely autonomously. While they may have redundant controls, they are not intended to be driven regularly by human drivers. Level 5 vehicles are likely still years or decades away from widespread deployment.
The main argument for driverless, autonomous vehicles is not geek-value but the fact that 90% of road traffic accidents are currently caused by human error.
2017 Tesla Model S and Model X
Perhaps the best-known semi-autonomous vehicle sold today is the Tesla Model S and Model X. The company’s Autopilot technology has received as much attention for its well-publicized failures as it has for its cutting-edge capabilities. The Enhanced Autopilot in the Model S uses four cameras and 12 ultrasonic sensors to “see” what’s happening around the car.
With Enhanced Autopilot, the Model S can center itself within its lane, automatically change lanes when directed, keep pace with traffic, transition from one freeway to another, and transition from a freeway to surface streets. When you arrive at your destination, the car can park itself.
Pushing the envelope even further, Tesla is set to offer a Full Self-Driving Capability package on the Model S. It is subject to further testing and regulatory approval before it can be activated. When it is activated, you’ll only have to enter an address in the navigation system or let the car see your upcoming appointments, and it will take you there with little or no driver intervention.
Likewise the Model X comes with the hardware needed for driverless operation; the functions just need to be activated in the car’s computer when you buy the car, or via an over-the-air update at a later time. When you are cruising down the freeway, the Model X will look for the fastest lane and guide you there when directed.
The other major advancement in automotive technology are electric vehicles (EV) or “plug-in” cars, and they are a response to a demand for cheaper and eco-friendly alternatives to petrol and diesel engines.
EVs are very much in the space today and this is where Port Moresby city authorities need to begin forward planning.
If we look at Europe, Britain is set to ban all new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 amid fears that rising levels of nitrogen oxide pose a major risk to public health.
The commitment, which follows a similar pledge in France, is part of the government’s much-anticipated clean air plan, which has been at the heart of a protracted high court legal battle.
Closer to home, in July this year the Queensland Government announced plans to build an “Electric Super Highway” spanning 2,000 kilometres along the east coast. The road will have free, fast-charging stations at 18 points along the route to create one of the longest electric highways in the world.
In the United States there are already around 20,000km of electric highways, with 16,107 charging stations and 43,828 charging outlets across the country.
However, there may be some obstacles in the road ahead as energy giants are now warning that electric cars could put an enormous additional load on power grids that are already struggling to cope with demand.
Electric Vehicles / Hybrids
Another form of EV is known as a hybrid.
A plug-in hybrid, for example, has a large battery capacity and is often capable of running entirely on electric power at least part of the time, though it will have a petrol engine as well, as a back-up.
One type of plug-in hybrid, often referred to as a range-extended EV, is essentially an electric car with a small petrol engine that acts as an on-board generator.
Electric vehicles are very much here to stay with dramatic economic consequences. Industry analyst Bloomberg reports that global sales of electric vehicles will hit 41 million by 2040, representing 35% of new light duty vehicle sales. This would be almost 90 times the equivalent figure for 2015, when EV sales are estimated to have been 462,000, some 60% up on 2014.