Vehicle automation has made major advances over recent years. Many public and private sector research programmes worldwide have now successfully demonstrated that test vehicles can operate without driver intervention for thousands of miles on public highways and within cities. A Tri-lateral Working Group on Automation in Road Transportation (Japan, Europe, US) has been established to progress work in these programmes.
The legality of operating automated vehicles on public roadways has become an issue as more and more manufacturers want to test and commercialise them. Some countries and regions have put in place regulations that legalise these operations. Others are actively reviewing this issue.
There are major social, cultural and legal issues to resolve before a fully automated vehicle fleet can become a reality. For instance – how much control will the majority of drivers be prepared to concede? Who is liable if a system fails? At what stage should automated systems be made compulsory? (See Automated Highways and Liability)
Today’s automated vehicles rely on an array of complex advanced technologies. Examples of basic elements include:
Fully automated driving is rapidly moving from research to real-life deployment. A number of car manufacturers have announced that they will have substantially automated vehicles available for purchase by 2020 – although it is generally anticipated that drivers will still need to be prepared to take an active role in some situations. In the meantime, increasingly sophisticated partially automated systems continue to make their way into the marketplace.
Similar advances have been made in automating vehicle functionality in commercial freight fleets. Work is underway to develop “platooning” solutions, which allow trucks to travel together in tightly spaced groupings to increase the density of freight traffic without prejudicing safety. It also has the advantage of providing fuel economy benefits – in the range of 10% or more for the follower vehicle depending on the gap. Platooning research has a long history, and it continues to advance with recent demonstrations in Japan, Germany, Sweden, and the U.S. (See Case Study on Safe Road trains for the Environment (SARTRE))