Are We There Yet? When Self-Driving Cars Will Be On The Roads

27/04/2016 8:56 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST
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If you want your next car to be self-driving, you may have to make your current vehicle last another decade or so, but a new coalition involving Google and Uber hopes to speed things up.

The two global powerhouses have jumped on the self-driving bandwagon with automakers Volvo and Ford as well as ridesharing app Lyft to spruik the benefits of autonomous cars.

Named The Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, the group will work with lawmakers and the public to put forth the safety benefits of self-driving cars.

Closer to home, the NSW Government's Staysafe Committee is undergoing an inquiry into driverless vehicles and the potential impact on road safety in NSW.

At the time of launch this year, chair Greg Aplin said self-driving cars could be commonplace within years.

“While long considered science fiction, self-driving cars are being developed and tested right now, and predicted to be on roads in the next couple of years," Alpin said.

If safety and robot-driven cars sound a little incongruous to you, take Australian Road Research Board Group's Gerard Waldron's claim that Australia’s $27 billion annual road safety bill could be reduced by up to 90 percent with driverless cars.

Waldron told ABC News driverless cars would change our cities from the ground up.

"What we'll see is a convergence of technology," Waldron said.

"We'll certainly move towards driverless cars, but we're also talking about electric vehicles and some sort of vehicle-sharing scheme. When we combine those three technologies, we end up with an opportunity to reduce the total number of cars we need for society's mobility, I estimate down to about a third of what we have now."

That means less congested roads, more car parking spaces in the city, less reliance on owning your own car, and an ability for those unable to drive to still take a ride anywhere they want.

So, are we there yet? Are there any cars ready to hit the road and drive us to work?

Volvo, which is part of the coalition, has been touting its autonomous model Concept 26 since last year and at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Sweden said it was also developing clever in-car entertainment systems that could tailor a show length to the duration of a trip, taking traffic into account.

Then there's Ford's self drive car that can take on snowy conditions and Toyota Motors aims to have a self-driving highway car by 2020.

There's also been a few missteps, though. One of Google's self-drive cars hit a municipal bus in California last year, and closer to home, no one can forget this footage:

That was South Australia's transport minister Stephen Mullighan in a Volvo driverless car slamming into a fake kangaroo, but that one was chalked down to human error as opposed to vehicle malfunction.

Currently, there's nowhere in the world where you can buy a driverless car and ask it to take you home. When it comes to summarising the roadblocks between now and that future, we'll leave it to Chief Scientist Alan Finkel's Press Club speech:

"Who do we allow to own or direct these cars?

"What happens to all the people who today drive things like trucks and taxis for a living?

"Who builds, and then who takes responsibility, for the sophisticated networks of sensors to support the cars?

"And given that orderly traffic flow depends on the interconnections between the cars and the traffic management software, what happens when a car hits an internet blackspot? Potential catastrophe.

"These are but a fraction of the issues attached to one technology in the immediately foreseeable future.

"To solve them, we need not just science, but research."

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