Driverless cars 'coming soon'

2014-02-20 11:30
SA has shuttered its electric car programme. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

SA has shuttered its electric car programme. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - Imagine sitting in your car and reading news or watching a movie on your tablet - all while you drive to work.

That future may not be as far away as you might think because clean self-driving cars may be a reality in less than five years.

"For a wholly autonomous car, we have to wait maybe five years," Andre Sharpe, Global Product and Business Development director at Regus told News24.

Regus has partnered with Rinspeed to develop a concept autonomous car, the XchangE, which will be shown to the public at the Geneva Motor Show in March.

The car boosts four seats and the two front ones are able to swivel to face the back to allow the occupants to face each other during transit.

Liability

"Autonomous cars no longer require drivers to watch the road, so there's an opportunity to make more meaningful use of their time," said Frank M Rinderknecht, CEO of Rinspeed.

While the concept could revolutionise private travel, there are multiple infrastructure and legal hurdles that autonomous will have to face before you go cruising.

One challenge is who should be liable should the technology malfunction in transit.

"This will be an interesting issue between the manufacturer, the insurance company and respective legislation of the country in which the accident occurs. As the car is still a concept, we are unable to provide specific details at this stage," said Sharpe.

Actually building a concept is also a long journey from a mass production vehicle.

In South Africa, there were high hopes for the Joule electric vehicle, produced by Optimal Energy.

Though the company received investment from the Industrial Development Corporation as well as the department of science and technology, the vehicle never made it to the production stage, despite several promises.

Viable technology

The concept of self-driving cars has shown to be viable.

Internet giant Google debuted a self driving car and the company recently launched the Open Automotive Alliance which seeks to promote the framework for driverless cars.

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Audi demonstrated a circuit board capable of piloting a car. The company though, would not say when the technology would become commercially available.

BMW demonstrated a parking technology that would allow vehicles to be driven by humans, but would park themselves autonomously.

The scope of the XchangE project is large in that it will no doubt employ a number of technologies to allow the vehicle to navigate and to ensure that charging is simple and efficient.

A self-driving car could also be a boon to visually disabled people or those who consume alcohol.

Check out this YouTube video of Google's driverless car in action



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