In this video the Blue Propeller Boys explain that autonomous driving can be defined on five levels, starting with steering sensors that can read lane markings and active cruise control that can prevent you from running into the car ahead – neither of which raises an eyebrow these days.
In fact, says BMW, production cars have already reached Level 2, when it’s quite safe to take your hands off the wheel for short periods, as long as your attention is still focused on what the car is doing – it’s not actually driving, but it can take over a lot of the routine tasks such as steering in open environments and maintaining following distance in heavy traffic.
From Level 3, which BMW plans to have in showrooms by the end of this decade, ultrasonic, radar and camera sensors will become more powerful and be able to build up a three-dimensional model of the world around the car – in real time – that is more detailed than what you can see and hear.
But even at level four – signposted at 2021 – there will still be certain circumstances when the car will ask you for help coping with complex driving problems (Louis Botha Avenue at 5.30pm springs to mind!). Nevertheless, says BMW, as the third decade of the new millennium unfolds, drivers will gradually pass more of the everyday work of driving to the car.
Driving to work will eventually become much the same as commuting by train or bus – a welcome break in the day, when we read, surf the net, or chat with fellow commuters.
But, just as today we flip the gear lever into M and dial up the Sport settings on the drive select control when we reach that favourite stretch of twisty road, so we’ll be telling our self-driving cars, “OK Kitt, I’ll take it from here.”
And, sooner or later, your car is going to complain, “You always have all the fun!”