The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, used to be all about TVs, gadgets and computers, but it’s now pretty much turned into a car show too.
This year one of the biggest themes is driverless technology, with nearly every carmaker promising autonomous cars sometime in the near future.
Nissan has come out with one of the boldest statements, claiming it will “launch more than 10 vehicles with autonomous drive technology in the next four years”. While that doesn’t necessarily mean completely driverless cars, features such as “single-lane control” which drives the car autonomously on highways, including in stop-and-go traffic will be here as soon as as this year.
Similar features have already been seen in Tesla’s Model S and several other European cars, but this is the first time autonomous technology has trickled down to the affordable car market.
By 2018, the Japanese car maker will introduce “multiple-lane control”, which as the name suggests, turns the single lane system into something that allows the car to work around road hazards and change lanes on highways.
And finally, in 2020 Nissan will add “intersection autonomy”, allowing the car to navigate intersections and heavy city traffic without the driver needing to do anything.
Toyota has committed $1 billion to developing the artificial intelligence behind driverless cars. Ford has bragged about its upcoming sensor for autonomous driving will be the most advanced in the world, allowing cars to create a real-time 3D map of the surroundings.
Big tech companies such as Google are spending up big too as they look to head into the driverless car market, estimated by Lux Research to be worth as much as $87 billion worldwide by 2030.
In Australia, we are slowly seeing driverless technology dribble int cars. Tesla’s Model S and its autopilot mode is the best implementation available on our shores right now, and like Nissan is aiming to do, allows you to drive on highways without any input. It’s also handy for traffic jams, which it can do by itself, you just need to be watching for red lights and stop signs which it can’t yet detect.
The biggest hurdle driverless technology faces in Australia, and indeed the world is legislation. The first step to getting it through local lawmakers occurred in November last year when Volvo conducted tests in Adelaide with the Australian Road Research Group in front of police and politicians.
If the technology is there for driverless cars on Australian roads in 2020, over 240 legislative changes would need to be made before the public could use them.
Companies such as Volvo have said they will be working hard in that time to convince politicians that the technology is safe and will save lives, not endanger them.