Over the past few days in the UK government broke the news that from 2040 new petrol or diesel powered vehicles would be banned. It’s a bold move that indicates that our shiny new cleaner energy future is not just going to remain on the horizon forever; we’re actually going to get there, even if it takes legislation to get us over the line.

The UK government’s move isn’t just happening in a vacuum – it follows the French government making the same commitment a few weeks ago, which itself followed a day on from Volvo saying that it would only make fully electric or hybrid cars from 2019. There’s little surprise that the French are comfortable meeting this deadline – the Renault-Nissan partnership is keen on electrification and so far has taken nearly 15% of the EU market for battery-powered vehicles.

The move to electric clearly stems from environmental concerns, with Greenpeace claiming that air pollution has cut short 40,000 lives in the UK alone.  Whether this is true or not, reducing air pollution is undoubtedly a key component is in creating the ‘smart cities’ of our promised future. However, it is just one piece of the puzzle. Another is, of course, autonomy.

The ultimate goal is the fully self-driving car, but the road to this is long and complex. The industry splits autonomy up into five levels, with Level 1 providing basic driver assistance systems, that can steer the car if it’s veering from a lane, and apply brakes if it detects a possible collision.  With Level 2 the car can steer and brake itself, and this is offfered by the likes of Tesla.

With Level 3 the car would effectively be able to drive itself fully, but the driver is required to be ready as a back-up at all times – which some would argue render it something of a white elephant in terms of autonomy.

What we really need to get to is Level 4 and 5, with the former having no expectation of driver involvement in the majority of scenarios, while Level 5 would not even require a driver in any situation at all, and would likely not even permit it.

Sounds complicated? It is.

To reach these levels would require a host of technologies to come online. Wireless communications will also have to reach another level of performance and reliability, while the promise of AI processor would have to be realised, with cars having the ability to truly understand the world around them.

But just as with electrification, automation is going to happen. Many believe that the resistance to it from some quarters is driven primarily by fear. After all, AI enabled cars will need to be able to make potentially life and death decisions themselves and we touched on some of the fears and concerns over this self-awareness in our recent article on the dawn of the AI age.

However, some leaders are being braver than others. Recently the governor of Washington State signed an executive order allowing for autonomous vehicle tests to start without a human driver at the wheel.

Once realised, the combination of electrification and autonomy could combine to have a positive impact on society at large by saving lives and improving long-term health. It would also enable us to reach the smart city utopia of an integrated transport system, which would turn our view of driving on its head, or at least on its side, and we can see from this vision of the driving future from Steven Spielberg’s 2002 Minority Report.

If you’d like to get a more in-depth understanding of the benefits of the smart city, and the challenges in making it happen, then register now for our webinar, taking place on the 27 July at 19:00 hours GMT.

In the webinar you will:

  • Understand the key motivators for changing to smart cities
  • Explore the issues that face the move to autonomous driving
  • Learn what infrastructure needs to be put in place and its implications
  • Discover what government support and legislation needs to be put in place
  • Find out which technologies will underpin this in the medium and long term

Even if you can’t make it, register to be able to watch it on-demand at a later time.

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Visit The Internet of Car – How smart cities will change the way we transport ourselves website

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