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The Engineer Q&A: driverless cars

Your chance to ask our expert panel their views on the development of self-driving vehicles.

We’re increasingly told the technology to create completely autonomous cars already exist: the job now is to get it onto the roads.

For the latest in our readers’ Q&A series, we’ve assembled a panel of experts to answer your questions on the technical, political and mental barriers to the adoption of driverless cars.

What exactly can the technology do already - and what can’t it do? Will regulations and insurers ever allow a car to drive without a human who can take over at any time? How far away are the days when you can drive to the pub and still have a drink?

Your questions this month will be answered by:

  • Prof Paul Newman - leader of an Oxford University team working with Nissan to develop an affordable robotic navigation and control system;
  • Bosch - which is among the companies to test driverless cars technology on the German autobahns;
  • MIRA - which hosts a test track for vehicles with autonomous technology in the UK.

Thanks for your questions. Comments have now closed. We’ll print the answers in the February edition of The Engineer magazine and here on the website.

Readers' comments (14)

  • At a jobs fair about 12 months ago in Germany I saw some employees of a well known car technology supplier drive their car into a wall (inflatable) when their automatic breaking system failed to work properly. What testing is will be mandated to prove a manufacturer's claims so that we can trust our cars?

    How will cars cope with unpredictable or overcomplicated situations - will they alert the driver to take over or will it "just never happen"?

    I personally feel that I need eyes in the back of my head to navigate some city roads because dangers exist on all sides of the vehicle. Personally I'd welcome some assistance e.g pressure on my left shoulder as someone came up behind on my left or enhanced sound or other things like that which would warn me without demanding that I take my eyes off the road ahead. Is research considering this sort of thing or is it too boring compared to robot cars?

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  • What are the legal impacts (i.e. who's liable when a robot car kills someone?)

    How will MOT tests have to change? Or will they?

    Will insurance premiums go up or down for cars fitted with this?

    Can the system be sure to work even after 30years or so of abuse?

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  • How long before we can buy the first driverless car? Technically it seems already feasible, but considering the other aspects (insurance, changing people mind-set, attractiveness for big manufacturer, etc) can an estimate be made?

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  • I believe that driverless cars will become reality within 50 years or less. I would be interested to know if the experts consider that driverless will be combined with GPS systems and u just enter where u want to be and the car does the rest . Also I wonder if cars will be the same as now what do the experts -Maybe some type of electronically controlled lounge for the well off and standing room for the lesser affluent ?

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  • Driverless cars will never be safe, especially in a city as not every situation cane be catered for. Engineers should concentrate on driver aids and automated urban transport.

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  • It will require a much higher level of input from local authorities to enable the navigation systems to cope with temporary conditions such as road closures (road works / accidents / blocking by snow etc.). Even now, the reliance on GPS navigators puts vehicles in unsuitable places. Given current public financial constraints I don't see this happening soon.
    After the autodriver has buried the vehicle in a snowdrift, will it be able to dig it out again?

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  • Will the car's location history be tracked?

    How many hours or days will be stored in the car and on some network?

    Will live location data be crowd sourced "anonymously" for traffic condition reporting? Or for governments to plan infrastructure and social services? At what point (if at all) will the data be anonymized - before storage in database, when provided to third parties within API, or request...?

    What will be the unique car identifier and who will manage it? Nationally by government or globally by industry?

    Who will manage or have access to this location history? Who will balance privacy with needs of law enforcement, civil liability and security?


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  • We already have driverless cars. Cell phones, electronics ad nauseum, power windows & locks, power brakes power & steering, automatic transmissions.

    We don't drive, let alone work on our own vehicles anymore. Talk about a recipe for planned obsolescence! How much impenetrable software and electronics will it take to make this nightmare happen?

    What will it all cost? Who by the way asked for it?

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  • Is this machine can be polite, meaning give priority for pedestrians?

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  • Individuals with disabilities, especially those with vision impairments, who currently can't get a driver's license are looking forward to the day when they can use an autonomous car. Do you think that companies working on self-driving cars are thinking about that in current R&D efforts? If so, when do you think fully autonomous cars (cars that require no driver engagement) will be on the market?

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