'Robot car could be here in 10 years'

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IOL mot pic feb28 Ford B-Max 1 . B-Max is the first Ford in Europe to be fitted with new Sync mobile technology that automatically alerts emergency services in an accident.

It brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘self-drive’.

Within a decade, motorists could be telling their vehicles to “switch to autopilot”, the boss of Ford predicted on Monday night.

Bill Ford Jr said dramatic advances in technology - many of which were already in development - will be needed to cope with the global rise in cars from one billion now to four billion by 2050.

Vehicles will increasingly become computers on wheels that can drive themselves autonomously and are able to talk not only to the driver, but also to each other.

They will be able to automatically link together in tight formation to save road space, and warn drivers of accidents and traffic jams ahead, as well as how to avoid them.

Ford - whose great-grandfather Henry Ford transformed cars from luxury playthings of the rich to an affordable mode of transport for millions - spelled out his vision for the next 25 years and beyond. And it seemed to be the stuff of science fiction films such as I, Robot, in which Will Smith drives a hands-free Audi.

“A car is a rolling collection of sensors.”

Addressing telecommunications chiefs at the 2012 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, he said: “Cars are becoming mobile communications platforms. Right now, there are a billion computing devices in the form of individual vehicles out on our roads. They’re largely unconnected from one another and the network.

“We’ll increasingly take advantage of the car as a rolling collection of sensors to reduce congestion and help prevent accidents.

“I’m confident that we will see many of these advances on the road in this mid-term period (between 2017 and 2025) because the early versions are already being designed, and in most cases, tested.”

For sceptics who say it’s all pie in the sky, experts point out that the same was said of satellite navigation, airbags and automatic braking - all of which are features on cars sold today.

One of the first fruits of the new generation of vehicles is Ford’s B-Max family car, to be launched at next week’s Geneva motor show; it’s the first Ford in Europe to be fitted with new Sync mobile technology that automatically alerts emergency services in an accident. Drivers can also use voice commands to control the in-car entertainment system. - Daily Mail

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