There was a virtual traffic jam of automotive brands and other tech heavyweights announcing their latest self-drive car initiatives at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, with everyone from BMW to Hyundai announcing they were investing heavily in driverless vehicle technology. BMW is focusing on automating every aspect of the driving experience by incorporating Alexa, Amazon's digital assistant, into its vehicles so a driver can shop, make a restaurant reservation or even book a flight while on the move. Whilst, Hyundai is aiming for affordability by reducing computing power and using less expensive sensors to operate its vehicles, thus opening up the technology to the masses. As such, the future of autonomous vehicles is closer than you may think.
Vehicles we once only dreamt of in futuristic blockbusters are now becoming a reality. During the UK's Autumn Statement, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced 390 [pounds sterling] million will be invested into the development of autonomous vehicles by the end of the current parliament. Though plans to test autonomous lorries in Britain have recently stalled, trials of such vehicles are already in place in other European countries. For instance, in Germany, testing for lorries electronically linked together in a convoy, with a lead vehicle manned by a human setting the pace and route, has already begun. Such technology has the capability to revolutionise the way many industries operate, however, security and safety implications must be addressed before they are unleashed on our roads.
At the start of 2016, one of Google's fleet of Lexus SUVs collided with a bus in California. An even more tragic incident occurred a few months later, when the first reported death occurred in a Tesla Model S on 'Autopilot'. Similarly, Uber's self-driving vehicles have been seen running through red lights, narrowly avoiding pedestrians crossing the road. All have raised considerable questions on the safety of autonomous vehicles.
Incidents such as this highlight the need for quality assurance throughout the product development, starting at the point of concept, right through to the vehicle leaving the production line. Though the press offices of those affected have been quick to blame human error for these incidents, they serve as stark reminders. Manufacturers must take responsibility for safety and ensure critical software systems are performing as they should prior to being released to the public.