Thinking back to the start of the internet explosion, I don’t think any of us could have foreseen all the knock-on changes it has made to our lives. Who would have believed that the TV schedule would be chucked out of the window, with TV on demand completely dominating our viewing habits or that trains would become a new office for businessmen on long journeys, with tethering to our phones powering our computer connections to the internet?
I feel the same way about the EV revolution that is only just starting.
Over the coming months, I will write a series of articles on this fascinating topic.
Motorways become 100% self-drive.
Last month’s change in the UK’s highway code to allow cars to “Self-Drive” below 37 miles per hour on motorways, feels like a massive hole has been punched in the dam holding back the EV evolutionary tide.
My Tesla X10 has 8 surround-view cameras providing 360-degree coverage, that monitor the surrounding traffic and keep me between the white lines of my traffic lane. The car automatically speeds up or slows down depending on the traffic in front of me, leaving me in the future to read the paper, send emails or even watch TV.
But why limit this to 37 miles per hour, when computers have a much higher level of concentration than humans?
I believe with 10 years motorways like the M60 will become like the circle line tube, with all cars flowing constantly at the same speed and maintaining safe distances to the car in front. When a car indicates, the cars in the next lane automatically adjust the gap to the car in front to allow it to safely pull over. Similarly, car spacings are automatically widened on the approach to junctions to allow cars to enter or exit the motorway flow.
Ironically, the thing preventing this from being implemented in the short term, is the random “Human” driver who may not “Stick to the rules” creating a danger.
The transition is therefore likely to be implemented in stages following the USA 2-Car driver lane model. Here, the outside motorway lane is cordoned off, only allowing entry and exit at major junctions connecting motorways. If drivers want smaller junctions in between these major artery connections they simply move to the manual lanes, so as to minimise flow disruption.
Most cars already contain trackers that calculate the position of the car allowing the potential of “Central Control” via a master computer database, like the way air traffic control has now been automated with humans only becoming involved to solve potential issues. In the future as soon as your car enters this lane control could automatically be taken over by central computers, who manage traffic flow according to conditions increasing or decreasing speed as considered necessary.
As a first step systems in the cars themselves would provide a basic version of this, with drivers monitored by average speed cameras that quickly detect whether they are pricelessly following speed guidance in the same way an automatous car driving program would. When a driver enters the self-drive lane, they would seed to control to the car and join a constant speed “Circle Line “of cars. When the driver required exit approaches the car's satellite navigation speaks instructing the driver to take back control and exit the lane in a safe manner. The driver would then re-join the inside two lanes where cars are driven manually, before exiting.
The biggest weakness of this concept is that drivers wishing to break the 70m maximum scheme on motorways would now be restricted to the inside two lanes and be closer to slower vehicles such as lorries. A potential alternative, might to make the inside “Slower” lane the self-drive lane and fill this with lorries or vehicles happy to drive at 50 mph, leaving the outside lanes to speed breaking humans continuing to dual it out. However, this is unlikely as UK motorways are geared up for leaving via the slow lane, requiring much greater interruption to the flow, so it’s likely the outside lane could become the slower constant speed lane.
If “Self-Drive” lanes are successful in making motorways flow more smoothly during peak demand periods, they will expand from 1 to 2 lanes with human drivers becoming the odd lane out.
The biggest obstacle to automated driving is coping with “Human Drivers” during the transition period until all cars are self-drive. It’s unlikely for example that self-drive cars will be allowed to operate around local streets where humans frequently cross the road and motorbikes, or cycle bikes are operated in erratic ways.
The cost of self-drive automatous driving is relatively low as just requires commonly available software and low-cost cameras, with many manufacturers are already adding these tools to both petrol and EV cars. To speed this process up the UK Government's next legislation should be to add a requirement for all EVs to be fitted with self-drive capabilities to the existing legislation requiring all new cars to be EVs by 2030.
The future is already legislated to be EV, it’s now time to take human driving out of the equation wherever possible as the research already shows that computers are better drivers.