“Very soon, we’re going to see exponential figures of people dying on the road if we don’t start working on technology immediately.”
Motortrades Insight have revealed in a recent report that is has been estimated that as many as 4m people every year could be killed if we don’t see the introduction of autonomous cars within 27 years. This grim warning comes courtesy of Michael Vernon Robinson, a US car designer.
Speaking with Motortrades Insight he said that we had to find a viable way to stop people dying. He spoke frankly about the tragic road accidents which cause the deaths of 1.24m people every year. This is the 8th biggest cause, worldwide, of human fatalities.
As around 50% of these fatalities involving cyclists, motorcyclists, scooter riders and pedestrians, the director of Bertone Brand and Design said he felt personally responsible for this shocking figure being a member of car industry.
“We better find a way to stop this long-going war,” he added. “And you could talk about the Afghanistan war, or the Iraq war or the Kuwait war, but these things happen and eight months later they stop. This is going on forever.”
There are 519 cars for every 1000 people in the United Kingdom, while in the United States, that figure stands at 797. In Germany, it is 572 and marginally higher in France at 578. In China, there are just 85 vehicles for every 1000 people – far higher than the 37 in 2008, 47 in 2009 and 58 in 2010. Decades from now, that figure could hit 1000.
Robinson fears that as the number of cars increase, the number of fatalities will rise rapidly too. “It will grow to three million people dying every year or even four million people dying every year,” he explained. “Very soon, we’re going to see exponential figures of people dying on the road if we don’t start working on technology immediately.”
If a car is truly able to drive without the aid of a human being, there would appear to be no need for a steering wheel. “I’ve done a lot of research on how to do accident-free driving. And that means taking the steering wheel away.”
He cited the recent pile-up of 130 vehicles on the Sheppey Crossing in Kent as an example of how humans continue to be the most dangerous item in a car, saying that motorists will always lapse in concentration and become distracted.
“The only way to not reduce but to eliminate accidents is to take the steering wheel away. I believe very strongly that by 2040, all steering wheels in all cars in all countries will be prohibited. If you have a car with a steering wheel, you will not be able to drive it on the road in 2040.”
But if a vehicle no longer has a steering wheel, is it an automobile? “Some might say, ‘Well, that’s boring, I’m not going to buy it anymore. I’ll take a tram’. So it’s our job as designers to maintain that magnetic attraction like the successful automobiles we have today. We have to find new ways of creating an exciting attraction factor into automobiles, even when we take away the steering wheel.”
Garry Chiles, Principal Product Engineer for TRW Braking Systems, said that ‘it’s a little while yet before we get fully driverless vehicles’, reinforcing Mr Robinson’s view that while OEMs including Volvo are working on creating autonomous cars, the steps being made are ‘all incremental changes rather than giant jumps into the future’.
Mr Chiles said that as autonomous technology is in its infancy his team continues to refine radar systems which can scan the road ahead for animals, children, vehicles and other moving or stationery objects, combining the radar with Autonomous Emergency Braking.
Next year, Volvo will introduce its large Animal Detection technology in the XC90, while the Swedish brand has already won awards for its Cyclist Detection system which was recently introduced across the range.
Speaking to Motortrades Insight “The most dangerous thing in the motor car is people,” explained British car designer Steve Harper. “You can make a motor car as safe as possible but at the end of the day, the most dangerous thing is that nut behind the wheel. Having worked for eight years at Volvo, one of the things you realise is that you can make a car prevent accidents but over the years what that’s done is made cars heavier and heavier because you’re trying to make them survive accidents against four tonne trucks or three tonne SUVs. Your car has to be able to survive that kind of impact.
If you avoid the situation of accidents completely, you could actually make lighter cars which would then become more fuel efficient. If it takes away the problem of accidents, the autonomous car also has the advantage of enabling you to do other things while you’re making that boring journey sitting in a traffic jam on the M25.”