Until fairly recently, autonomous cars seemed like something out of a science fiction movie. They appeared unlikely to impact our lives any time soon. Well, all that is about to change.
According to financial, educational hub BuyShares, the global autonomous car market is expected to grow by 36% in the next two years – and be worth around R526-billion by 2023 (versus an estimated R384-billion this year).
Practically, this means 5.4-million autonomous cars on the planet's roads by 2023 – versus mere a 1.4-million vehicles in 2019.
Making informed decisions
When BuyShares refers to autonomous cars, it references vehicles that boast at least Level 3 autonomy – which means that the car can make informed decisions by itself (it can decide to accelerate past a slow-moving vehicle, for instance). However, the driver is still integral, and they need to remain alert and ready to take control if the system is unable to execute any tasks.
But how is this trend towards autonomy going to impact South African motorists – and what benefits does it offer? According to BuyShares.co.uk, major carmakers, tech giants, and start-ups have invested more than $50bn into autonomous vehicle technology over the last five years. One of the most significant benefits of that technology is improved safety.
Take, for instance, Volvo's forthcoming fully electric flagship XC90 SUV. It will boast industry-leading safety technology and state-of-the-art sensors, including LiDAR technology developed by Luminar and an autonomous driving computer powered by the Nvidia Drive Orin system-on-a-chip. Large amounts of computing power are a prerequisite for safe autonomous driving. This industry-leading AI-computing platform for the automotive industry is capable of an unprecedented 254 tera (or 254-trillion) operations per second.
Henrik Green, Volvo's chief technology officer, says: "We believe in partnering with the world's leading technology firms to build the best Volvos possible. With the help of Nvidia Drive Orin technology, we can take safety to the next level on our next generation of cars. In our ambition to deliver ever safer cars, our long-term aim is to achieve zero collisions and avoid crashes altogether. As we improve our safety technology continuously through updates over the air, we expect collisions to become increasingly rare and hope to save more lives."
Ultimately the move towards autonomous cars can only support that quest to achieve zero collisions. As the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States notes, the safety benefits of automated vehicles are paramount.
It states: "Automated vehicles' potential to save lives and reduce injuries is rooted in one critical and tragic fact: 94% of serious crashes are due to human error. Automated vehicles have the potential to remove human error from the crash equation, which will help protect drivers and passengers, as well as cyclists and pedestrians."
Given South Africa's dismal road safety record, the arrival of autonomous cars could not come sooner.