Self-driving cars and trucks are getting closer to a street near you.
In the UK, Jaguar Land Rover, Ford and Tata Motors in collaboration with UK Autodrive, are leading the way. In China, it is Volvo Group that is pioneering, while in the truck business it is the irrepressible Elon Musk, via Tesla.
In the UK, Coventry is the target. Jaguar Land Rover, Ford and Tata Motors in collaboration with UK Autodrive, are set to run public trials of autonomous cars. Project director, Tim Armitage said: "Our previous private test track trials showed that the technology works but it is only on real roads that we will start to see the scale of the benefits that it can bring to the general public.”
Turning to China, Volvo Group, as opposed to Volvo Cars (owned by Geely Holding) has unveiled a new self-driving truck prototype in Beijing. Martin Lundstedt, president and CEO of Volvo Group, said: "Though this technology may be years away from production, it will undoubtedly influence our future offering and has the potential to develop smart societies for the future." He added: "Basically, we have three flows in a city－the mobility of people, and goods in and waste out. We're working to use the same solution and infrastructure to move the three flows forward.”
And that takes us to Tesla.
It has revealed quite the beast, it’s new semi-truck, an electric truck that is said to be able to travel 500 miles between re-charges, or for 400 miles on a 30-minute charge.
Elon Musk was there at the launch in California, before the event he tweeted: “This will blow your mind clear out of your skull and into an alternate dimension. Just need to find my portal gun.” - which is a reference to TV series Rick and Morty.
He used marginally less colourful words at the launch saying “The point of doing this is just to give a hardcore smackdown to gasoline cars.” Musk continued “Driving a gasoline sports car is going to feel like a steam engine with a side of quiche.”
Musk does not have the best reputation for meeting his own, rather stunningly ambitious targets. But on this occasion, it seems one of his boasts was probably not meant to be taken seriously, he said that the truck “can transform into a robot, fight aliens and make one hell of a latte.”
Some analysts questioned the feasibility of the truck making a latte, although Musk plans to colonise Mars, interface brains to computers, and build lots of Tesla 3 cars next year, are raising less question marks.
But what about the autonomous feature? Tesla has been working with Nvidia, on a auto-pilot version. Well, there was no news yesterday, but plans for a convoy of trucks, with only the lead truck driven by a human are advancing.
Recently, Tesla stated in its newsletter: "Now that the foundation of the Tesla vision neural net is right, which was an exceptionally difficult problem, as it must fit into far less computing power than is typically used, we expect a rapid rollout of additional functionality over the next several months and are progressing rapidly towards our goal of a coast-to-coast drive with no one touching the controls."
It's only matter of time. It won’t be long before our car can take us home from the pub, but neither will it be long before the job title taxi or truck driver, will be classed in the same list that has sees such jobs as typing pool manager, blacksmith and elevator operator.