GENEVA – When it comes to self-driving cars, early euphoria has given way to prudence after recent fatal accidents during testing reined-in expectations, something reflected at the Geneva Motor Show on Friday.
The exhibition, which celebrates its 89th edition from March 7-17, has on show a range of partially driver-less vehicles from almost all producers, including the Toyota Mirai (powered by hydrogen) or the electric Polestar 2 developed by Sweden’s Volvo.
“We will be able to see vehicles with automatic driving soon on the motorways that can help the driver to relax when the situation is under control, in certain circumstances, and in future those situations will increase,” said mechanical engineer François Guichard of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), a who works on the technological regulation of these cars.
To prove the point, both models mentioned above focus mainly on driver assistance systems rather than replacement, he told EFE in an exclusive interview.
These vehicles, identifiable because they usually have a radar at the front (where the vehicle logo is normally located) and a camera with a sensor next to the interior mirror, could drive alone in simple or repetitive situations, such as a traffic jam, but would alert the driver in case of an emergency.
“All brands have the strategy of giving drivers some free time,” said Guichard, adding that this was in order to be able to see e-mails or news on a vehicles’ screen, for example. “But if the car finds a problem, the driver must be notified as soon as possible.”
UNECE collaborates with the World Forum for the Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations and has organized a symposium on self-driving vehicles at the show to analyze the technological and legal regulation necessary to develop this new sector which is trying to move from fantastic utopia to reality.
“At the beginning, technical progress was very fast, but now we have the impression that everything is going slower because we are at a stage where cars should stand on their own and that is more complicated to handle,” he said.
“In the last year we have seen expectations coming down,” UNECE spokesman Jean Rodriguez told EFE. “In the previous four or five, all producers announced that everything would be automated in two or three years. Tokyo, for example, predicted that there would be fleets of driverless cars at its 2020 Olympic Games, now that has all been halted.
“A series of accidents have shown that this couldn’t be moved forward so quickly, that you had to take into account the complexity of the matter, and that it takes time,” he said.
Technicians agree that the industry is currently at a point where cars can automate tasks such as acceleration or braking, and to a lesser extent steering, although brands like Tesla are more advanced in this aspect.
What has also changed is that many more traditional makes of car have entered into the sector, whereas initially, it was mainly outside firms with names like Google or Baidu that had carried the baton.
“The traditional makes have awakened and are investing multimillion-dollar figures, and there are also many cooperation agreements between them and programming or telecommunications companies,” Rodriguez said.
He and Guichard agreed that automation will come sooner or later, but the date of arrival of these advances has been delayed, and there is a need for a unification of regulations, they said.
“We are facing a revolution in connectivity that will have a social impact, but we cannot do it alone, we need all the participants in the sector to come together to see what is viable and safe,” concluded Guichard.