Jameel Motors
Jameel Motors
High hopes for aerial mobility

A driverless future?

Jameel MotorsDubai, UAE
January 17 , 2024
Jameel Motors17 minute read
Jameel motors

Newsweek Magazine – December 17, 1956: an advertisement for a new electric future including driverless cars.
Newsweek Magazine – December 17, 1956: an advertisement for a new electric future including driverless cars.

Autonomous vehicles (AV) have long felt like a foretaste of some distant future: an exciting concept, but one safely contained within the realms of science fiction or fanciful speculation.

As drivers, such skepticism is understandable.  

The glimpses of autonomy we have so far seen are strictly limited.  Maybe we have experienced some braking assistance, or the odd lane drift alert, or perhaps a robotic voice conducting us to our chosen destination.

It’s all a long way from the AV-ruled roads we navigate in our imaginations: Fleets of cars seamlessly navigating our boulevards and byways, without the merest input from passengers left free to relax as the journey unfolds.

But now, that seemingly ‘distant future’ could be a lot nearer than we thought.  AVs on a sliding scale of complexity are slowly emerging on to our roads, allowing motorists to at least partially disengage from the driving experience and let the on-board digital brain take the strain.

How ‘hands-free’ could autonomous vehicles be?

From the outside, the new breed of AV look much like the vehicles we’ve been cruising around in for years – boxes of steel, plastic and toughened glass perched on four wheels.  

But that’s where the similarities end, because on the inside these new vehicles are smart.  Their built-in autonomy, a kind of engineered ‘intelligence’, means the interaction between driver and machine will never be the same again.

How smart is smart?  That is the question most car buyers will be asking in the coming years.  While not all systems are yet commercially available, there already exists a sliding scale to help quantify differing levels of autonomy.  The various levels range from useful driver aids to full-on autopilot.[1]

  • Level 0: Offers warnings and sporadic driver assistance, from emergency braking to blind spot alerts.
  • Level 1: Steering OR brake/acceleration support, for example lane centering OR adaptive cruise control.
  • Level 2: Steering AND brake/acceleration support, for instance lane centering AND adaptive cruise control.
  • Level 3: Auto-drive permitted under specific conditions, such as a ‘congestion chauffeur’.
  • Level 4: Auto-drive enabled under certain conditions requiring neither pedals nor steering wheels.
  • Level 5: Vehicles deemed capable of completely self-driving under any and all road conditions.

Given the latest developments in technology, where exactly are we right now on the highway to hands-off driving?

Currently, few commercially available cars surpass the Level 2 autonomy threshold.  

However, road tests for Level 3 autonomy are happening in controlled environments, and 2024, could see the green light for trials of Level 4 vehicles on public roads.

Much like the speed at which electric vehicles have supplanted internal combustion engines, AV are tipped for a rapid ascent once widely unleashed.  This is because their advantages will increase exponentially.  On its own, a single AV is useful but hardly a game-changer.  

The real fun starts when the majority of cars on the road are piloted by automated systems, as this will usher in the exciting scenario of them being able to communicate with each other.

Safety and efficiency are the immediate beneficiaries.

  • Safety: Two cars need to avoid a collision.  Faster than the human mind could ever react, the vehicles exchange messages and swerve in different directions.
  • Efficiency: Millions of cars currently spend much journey time sitting idle in traffic.  With AV accessing a ‘hive mind’ comprising all vehicles in transit, advanced algorithms could dictate optimum traffic flows and ensure everyone gets to their destination faster (and less stressed) than disparate minds could ever conspire.

It is a new vision for motoring, one in which the human (with our error-prone reasoning and hardwired impatience) is sidelined in favor of something purpose-built for one goal: the incident-free transport of people and goods.

Marques make headway in race for AV dominance

Toyota Research Institute Vehicle Photo credit © Kirsten Korosec

The AV industry has long been a hotbed of innovation.  One of them is Jameel Motors’ long-term automotive partner, the Toyota Motor Corporation.

Toyota is developing dual systems which it hopes will quietly revolutionize the concept of motoring. 

Its Guardian safety platform is a versatile driving facilitator.  

Acknowledging the contrasting aptitudes of human and machine, the Guardian system divides control of the vehicle between the flesh-and-blood driver and an integrated AI device.  

Its Chauffeur system, meanwhile, is an autonomous driving technology capable of operating without any human intervention at all. Targeting Level 4 or Level 5 autonomy, the Chauffeur system will be a lifeline for those unable to drive for physical reasons, and an invaluable lifestyle enhancement for those who would rather not.

Toyota Ventures Logo

A research-and-design trailblazer, the company is also investing in interconnected technologies through its early-stage venture capital firm, Toyota Ventures.  

Investments include Apex.AI, creating software for autonomous mobility systems such as Apex.OS; and the Nauto system, an AI-infused behavior learning platform which scrutinizes billions of data points to identify risky traits synonymous with human driving habits.  Toyota also has its eyes on the bigger picture, looking ahead to a ‘smart world’ encompassing not just our cars but also our homes, computers, energy grids, cities and more.

California-based EV trendsetter RIVIAN (in which the Jameel Investment Management Company, JIMCO, is a significant investor) thrives at the industry’s cutting edge.  Its cars are computers as much as they are vehicles, tailormade for hands-free driver assistance, driver monitoring and telematics – all constantly updateable like phone apps.  Rivian’s unique AI charging system is designed to triple the lifespan of on-board batteries.

The RIVIAN R1S at a RIVIAN charging station in the US. Photo credit © RIVIAN

Industry titan Tesla is betting on its Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS).  Currently achieving automation of around Level 2 sophistication, Tesla is ultimately aiming for Level 4 or 5 complexity.  Highlights include semi-autonomous steering on limited-access freeways, self-parking, automatic lane changes and traffic-aware cruise control.

Established automotive brands are eager to keep pace with these tech-savvy startups.  This year’s Cadillac Escalade sports the company’s bespoke Super Cruise package, which uses LiDAR map data, 360o cameras and a suite of sensors to provide a hands-free driving assistant on select roads.  Super Cruise has already logged millions of miles of successful driving.

Not to be left out, Volkswagen Golfs and Passats now boast inbuilt camera and radar devices to detect speed limit changes and respond to road signs.  Automatic distance control ensures ‘safe spaces’ are continually maintained while driving.

BMW’s Driving Assistant Professional technology, available in the new 7 Series, is described as the vehicle’s beating heart.  It provides a range of autonomous interventions such as active cruise control, steering and lane guidance, traffic light detection, emergency stop assistance and rear collision warning.[2]

Autonomous Audi Q8 concept vehicle (not production available) road testing in Wuxi, China.  Image Credit © Audi AG

Audi is showcasing the versatility of V2X (vehicle-to-everything) communication technology with its Q8 vehicles, a fully automated driving experience being road-tested on public streets in Wuxi, China.  Being a ‘smart city’, Wuxi has the infrastructure for trials in a live environment.  The Q8s synch with the vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) traffic light service and are responsible for braking to avoid other road users and pedestrians.

Similarly, at the luxury end of the market, Audi’s Skysphere concept expands the vehicle’s body length by 10 inches after transitioning to self-drive mode; while its Grandsphere has fold-away controls in the front to make way for lounge-style seats.

Ford debuted its BlueCruise technology in its Mustang Mach-E models in 2022.  The UK government became Europe’s first to green light hands-free driving on some 2,300 Km of roads known as Hands-Free Blue Zones.  Although drivers are compelled to keep their attention on the road, they do not need to operate steering wheels or pedals.  Driver-facing cameras monitor eye gaze and head positioning to recognize when a driver is distracted.  BlueCruise is also deployed in Canada and the USA, where autonomous taxis are becoming a regular sight in cities both progressive – San Francisco – and even more conservative – Phoenix.

All systems go for the self-driving revolution

Advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous driving systems drove a market worth US$ 40-55 billion in 2022, but this is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg.  Revenues are expected to soar to US$ 300-400 billion by mid-2030s, with roughly half of that amount accounted for by Level 4 or above ‘high driving automation’.[3]

In real terms, that means a global fleet of almost 17,000 fully automated vehicles on the roads today expanding to more than 125,000 by the end of the decade, with countless more exhibiting less comprehensive levels of autonomy.[4]  Some estimates suggest that production numbers for vehicles featuring at least partial AV abilities could hit 800,000 per annum by 2030.[5]

Depending how quickly the industry and national legislators react to the upcoming technological revolution, cars with a high level of autonomy could become the norm rather than the exception within the next decade.

Under the accelerated adoption scenario proposed by global business advisory firm McKinsey, 57% of passenger vehicles sold by 2035, could feature Level 3 and above autonomy – traffic jam pilot, highway pilot, and urban pilot.  Even under its slower adoption scenario, almost one-in-six cars will feature such advanced automation, with more than half of the remainder featuring at least entry-level AI.[6]

Autonomy is coming whether we like it or not – and it turns out most of us do.  Safety features such as blind spot detection (83%) and night vision (80%) have extremely high desirability ratings in surveys.  Even the more significant technological revolutions – those promising to drastically upend our relationship with the entire driving concept – are widely anticipated: unsupervised highway driving (65%), hands-off city driving (64%) and fully self-driving cars (61%).[7]

Commercial operators may well prove the biggest driving force behind the AV takeover, with more than half of small businesses believing their fleets are likely to be fully autonomous within two decades.[8]

Several global AV ‘hubs’ are already identifiable, demonstrating the importance of legislative support for widespread AV adoption.

According to McKinsey, tech-dominated China is likely to become the world’s leading AV market.  AVs could account for two-thirds of all passenger miles undertaken in China by 2040.[9]

The USA has so far failed to enshrine federal-level legislation governing AV, leaving state lawmakers to introduce sometimes inconsistent policies.  Efforts remain under way in the House of Representatives to revive stalled bipartisanship on the issue.  As of January 2023, only 10 states (out of 50 plus Washington DC) had no laws on autonomous vehicles, or no formally announced research on the topic.

The UK, conversely, is moving decisively to assert itself at the forefront of the AV market.  In 2022, it amended its iconic driver guidebook, known as The Highway Code, to include AV.  The guidance specifies when AVs must surrender control back to a human, such as during roadworks or bad weather.

Nissan’s three-year driverless car trial in the UK was gauged a success after 1,600 miles of inner city testing with zero crashes.[10]  In summer 2023, the UK’s Department of Transport unveiled new legislation designed to permit driverless cars (without even ‘safety drivers’ in the front seat) to convey passengers and undertake deliveries by 2027.  However, some doubt that the necessary UK legislation will be passed in time to meet that date.

Why are legislators routinely lagging behind innovators?  One of the main reasons might be the lack of infrastructure for widespread roll-out.

Cities must pave the way to a smart future

Designing and manufacturing the next generation of driverless cars is a notable challenge, one the motor industry is hungry to explore.  Unleashing AV en-masse upon roads that are not ready is, however, a self-defeating endeavor.

Put simply, our roads and our cities need to play catch-up to ready themselves for the coming revolution.

Road markings must be unambiguous, highly visual and rigorously maintained.  Traffic signs will need to be standardized and strategically positioned.

New road surfacing technologies may be needed, or at least repair regimes dramatically overhauled.  Since AV drive in neater convoys than conventional cars, they generally cause ruts to appear in parallel lines in soft materials such as asphalt.  Future surfacing materials will need to balance permeability to rainwater with reinforced wear-resistant concrete tracks.

Cities will soon need to introduce complex and costly digital transport management systems.  These will be responsible for communicating large amounts of data – on traffic flows, construction works and speed limits – to multiple vehicle operating systems simultaneously.

Such a wholesale switchover is unlikely to happen overnight, as it will require mass cooperation for harmonizing systems and processes, often across borders.  Still, early iterations of such systems provide cause for optimism.

C-ITS (Cooperative-Intelligent Transport Systems): An advanced transport system to prevent traffic accidents, manage roads and support vehicle operations through real-time data sharing enabled by vehicle to vehicle (V2V), vehicle to people (V2P) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) two-way communication. Image credit: Seoul Topis project (https://topis.seoul.go.kr/openEngCits.do )

Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS), for example, are proving adept at providing vehicles with early warnings of incidents or delays.  

Seoul, South Korea, has emerged as an early advocate for C-ITS as part of its wider TOPIS (Transport Operation and Information Service) project, installed on some 121km of major roads.  The technology can even help prevent accidents by instructing vehicles to switch lanes at short notice.

Similarly, Australia has deployed C-ITS along the 1,500km stretch of Queensland’s Bruce Highway, delivering warnings of pedestrians and red lights – a move anticipated to reduce accidents by a fifth.[11]

Portugal uses C-ITS technology to inform drivers of hazards and delays within the 1,620m Gardunha tunnel near Fundão.  The system alerts motorists to problems before entering the tunnel, allowing them to change routes and avoid problems.

One study indicated that a truly holistic AV ecosystem – one encompassing communication between vehicles, infrastructure, and other road users – could eventually reduce crashes by up to 78% worldwide.[12]

Obstructions in the road?

Countries will need to prioritize mobile connectivity in order to harness the benefits of AV advances.  While 4G was sufficient for many early applications, 5G will prove essential for the high speeds and low latency demanded by the AV industry.  Launching such schemes is both time-consuming and expensive.

It is unlikely that governments will be able to negotiate the wide range of policy issues that AV bring up, with the support of the variety of stakeholders they involve, without co-ordination and strategic direction. 

Some countries are seeking to provide this through dedicated bodies, such as the UK’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV)[13]

This policy unit, a joint initiative between the country’s business and transport departments, has overseen activity such as mobilizing £450m of public and private investment, developing a code of practice for testing and enacting new primary legislation, as well as securing engagement from local and regional authorities[14].  CCAV also tasked the UK law commissions to review the legal framework for AV.  The resulting report, published in 2023[15], includes recommendations on issues such as approval and authorization, monitoring of performance, marketing, and criminal and civil liability.

Similar co-ordination and co-operation will also be crucial at an international level.  Bringing together international experience in standardized procedures for testing and crash investigations, for instance, could help introduce AV across jurisdictions faster. 

Another issue is the lack of a consensus on preferred connectivity methods, which makes it harder to justify immediate investment.  Global work towards agreed standards would increase policy makers’ confidence about where to invest and help developers find solutions with a wide application.  The ITF also suggests that AV operations in different areas could be assisted by developing a customizable “blueprint” to avoid the need to invent new arrangements in every city.

“Many of the uncertainties about how and where AVs can operate are best approached through a global collaboration between industry and policy makers, working together to explain uncertainties and develop a standard approach that can encourage innovation and protect the public,” says the ITF in its report.[16]

An encouraging example of such international collaboration exists in the C-Roads project[17] , which brings together EU member states and road operators to work on the harmonized deployment of C-ITS systems.  Another is the United Nations’ World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, which is developing a global regulatory framework for AVs, including recently raising the maximum automated speed limit to 130 kilometers per hour[18].  If they can show the ambition and courage needed to build on such initiatives, governments and industry across the globe will be well-placed well to harness AVs’ considerable potential.

Equally important are high-definition maps.  These will merge historic and real-time data to generate a 3D model of a vehicle’s immediate surroundings, precise to within centimeters.  Such detailed maps represent their own kind of infrastructure, yet their data-intensity requires enormous processing power.

Indeed, processing power is itself one of several hurdles that could delay the global adoption of AV.  Operators must also consider overhauling data security measures; refining liability laws; and protecting against cyberattacks.  Nor can they afford to overlook the perhaps underestimated battle for hearts and minds.

For it is consumers, ultimately, who will determine the fate of the AV transition.  They must be willing to fund the technology with their purchasing power.  Some may struggle with the concept of ceding control of their cars to an invisible AI entity, or allowing their data to cascade freely to an all-seeing city-wide supercomputer.

Stakeholders must unite to tackle these challenges with energy and imagination.  The potential benefits of a dynamic AV industry justify the journey: Fewer traffic casualties; greater freedom for the physically impaired; less congested streets; and a reduction in greenhouse gases as the mass movement of people and goods unfolds with maximum efficiency and fewer wasted miles.

Autonomous driving is here to stay.  Are you ready to get onboard?

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[1] https://www.sae.org/news/press-room/2018/12/sae-international-releases-updated-visual-chart-for-its-leves-of-driving-automation-standard-for-self-driving-vehicles

[2] https://www.bmwgroup.com/en/news/general/2023/driver-assistance-systems.html

[3] https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/automotive-and-assembly/our-insights/autonomous-drivings-future-convenient-and-connected

[4] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1230664/projected-number-autonomous-cars-worldwide/

[5] https://research.aimultiple.com/self-driving-cars-stats/

[6] https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/automotive-and-assembly/our-insights/autonomous-drivings-future-convenient-and-connected

[7] https://press.spglobal.com/2023-06-15-Consumers-Desire-Automated-Safety-over-Self-driving-Technology,-according-to-S-P-Global-Mobility

[8] https://research.aimultiple.com/self-driving-cars-stats/

[9] https://research.aimultiple.com/self-driving-cars-stats/

[10] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2023/10/15/driverless-cars-britain-four-years-nissan-ford/

[11] https://cms.its-australia.com.au/assets/images/PDFs/Connectivity-in-C-ITS-White-Paper_FINAL_web.pdf

[12] https://www.traffictechnologytoday.com/news/connected-vehicles-infrastructure/white-paper-australian-research-reveals-connected-talking-cars-could-save-lives.html

[13] https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/centre-for-connected-and-autonomous-vehicles

[14] https://www.itf-oecd.org/preparing-infrastructure-automated-vehicles

[15] https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/automated-vehicles/

[16] https://www.itf-oecd.org/preparing-infrastructure-automated-vehicles

[17] https://www.c-roads.eu/platform.html

[18] https://unece.org/media/transport/Road-Safety/press/368227