Jules Verne had imagined it in his novel, Paris in the Twentieth Century. A world of glass skyscrapers, high-speed trains, powerful and super-fast computers, a global communications network able to transmit sounds and pictures in real time from one end of the planet to the other. And cars that self-drove using gas-fuelled engines instead of heat engines. The majority of those predictions have come true. The one about cars, only in part. While there are no gas-fuelled cars, self-drive vehicles, or at least, driver-assisted ones, do exist. Two terms that are often confused or create confusion. Let’s try to clarify them. Remembering that the objective is still, in any case, the safety of all road-users, those moving on wheels and those on foot, and that, undoubtedly, a self-drive vehicle can pay attention to things that are beyond a human’s physically capacity and, being a machine, never gets tired or becomes distracted.
The driver-assisted system helps or, in some cases, replaces the driver in certain functions, like, for example, parking and as BMW’s Personal Co-Pilot systems do. Then we go to the next level, that is, partial automation, where cars equipped with steering r assistance for lane control, can brake or accelerate and control the steering wheel.
The next step is conditioned automation where a vehicle can drive itself along selected or pre-arranged routes or those technically defined as “protected” like, for example, some motorways, even if the driver can immediately resume control whenever he so desires. For several years now, BMW’s test vehicles have been trying out conditioned self-drive systems on some public roads in order to make them a reality for customers by 2021.
High-automation, on the other hand, is when the vehicle is able to autonomously deal with a reasonably busy urban route, as Tesla is also currently experimenting, and in situations considered as complicated or problematic, such as roadworks blocking the road or an obstacle that suddenly appears in front of the car.