You only have to glance around the halls of Mobile World Congress or a plethora of other tech trade shows to see how inseparable the automotive and technology industries now are, and the recent unveilings of concept cars from Renault and DS are great examples of this. But when looking at these feats of engineering that wouldn’t be out of place in a sci-fi film, I can’t help but feel that the gloss and shine is holding us back from visualising what our connected and autonomous future is actually going to look like in the short term.
New research in the US found that 15 percent of the American public don't believe there will ever be an autonomous vehicle(AV) on the market, and four out of ten said they would never ride in a fully AV, so there is clearly a lot of convincing to do. But with 5G due to roll-out next year - which arguably will accelerate the development of this technology - and trials of driverless cars set to start in London in 2019 too, this ‘future’ is closer than a lot of people realise. Even the UK government thinks so.
I was recently at a Showcase event held by the company leading the charge for driverless cars in Europe, FiveAI, where it showed off the AV that its engineers are currently developing. This car is not as flashy, but is no less amazing, and is aimed at solving real problems for the everyday traveller via on the software that is hidden inside the vehicle. Ultimately, the company is working on a shared mobility service that is so attractive to consumers that they give up using their cars to commute and embrace the mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) model in their everyday lives.
Despite companies like FiveAI making real strides in solving the ultimate challenge – safe autonomous driving in urban areas – the number of people in the UK which believe that the reality of AVs outnumbering conventional cars as early as the next 10 to 15 years is dropping. But the benefits of this technology are very real too: reduced congestion, air pollution, cost/time of journeys and road accidents to name a few.
Half open-topped sports car, half luxury saloon, its outlandish styling looks as though it has come straight from the pages of a superhero magazine. Inside, it's no less radical - there's even a holographic personal assistant. It is designed to show what the company thinks a hugely powerful, all-electric self-driving machine might actually be like.